OTTUMWA — You may not see the current slave trade, says a local woman, but it’s there.
“The ride” Kathryn Erickson is now involved in is the journey of Garrett Zambrows, 26, a recent Purdue University graduate embarking on a 12,000-mile bike journey crisscrossing the United States to raise awareness and funds for anti-human trafficking efforts. He’s expected to arrive in Ottumwa today.
“Our little Baptist church got behind this,” Erickson said, adding that not only will they feed the hungry rider, they’ve got a place for him to stay and raised $300 for anti-trafficking charities.
He’ll be at Forrest Lake Camp in Wapello County.
“I believe we should all love each other,” Zambrows said, “and trafficking is the opposite of that.”
Both he and Erickson said vulnerable people, especially women and children, are coerced into sexual slavery, making a profit for the slavers. There is also a trade providing workers for sweat shops, drug distributors or the service industries. Erickson said the problem affects us all: The Omaha-to-Chicago pipeline for drugs and slaves passes right by Wapello County, though the most popular routes between Minneapolis and Kansas City and Chicago to Omaha are Interstate 80 and Interstate 35.
“I think people are not aware that Iowa is such a main place to move them,” Erickson said.
Actually, says Zambrows, some people aren’t aware of human trafficking at all. The people who like to help when people are in trouble aren’t necessarily the kinds of people who regularly visit prostitutes and drug operations.
“The difference between trafficking drugs is that the drugs are used up, and you need to get more. With a human being, you can use them over and over and over again. Trafficking is invisible. Out of sight, out of mind,” Zambrows said.
In each location he stops, he’s talked to audiences about the horror of human trafficking.
“I can’t imagine riding 12,000 miles on a bike. But at 7 p.m., he’ll be speaking at Forest Lake Camp conference center,” said Erickson.
That’s the most important part of his mission, he said.
“It’s nearly impossible to identify someone who is trafficked; they’ve been coerced into being there, and they are held there by fear,” Zambrows said. “It’s a very, very heavy topic. It’s a very difficult discussion to have. But as long as someone is having that discussion, the more likely we are to do something about it.”
To see reporter Mark Newman’s Twitter feed, go to @couriermark.