140-mile ride to fight human trafficking being held during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
STURGIS, S.D. – With the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally well underway, one of the key issues at hand for law enforcement officials is human trafficking. On Aug. 7, several organizations are teaming up to host a 140-mile ride through the Black Hills to raise funds and awareness around the problem.
The Fast Ride is a collaborative project between the City of Sturgis, Ride My Road, Fighting Against Trafficking and the EPIK Project. Riders will begin in Sturgis and head north, stopping for lunch, live music and a raffle. There will also be speakers, including survivors, discussing the impacts human trafficking has had across the country, and what’s being done to combat it.
In the past few years, awareness has grown around the issue, which has not only become an increasing problem during the rally, but also across the nation and beyond. In fact, human trafficking is considered the world’s fastest growing organized crime and has long posed a human rights crisis.
According to Tom Perez, the founder of EPIK Project, a large part of the problem is that many of the individuals that buy victims don’t realize the harm they’re causing.
Perez’s organization, which stands for Everyman Protecting Innocent Kids, focuses on teaching the public about how the problem isn’t just those who traffic victims, but also the many individuals who buy them – and therefore create the market demand that sustains human trafficking as a whole.
The EPIK Project was founded in 2012 and specifically focuses on sex trafficking and creating conversations between men about how the crime isn’t victimless – but has a real impact on vulnerable human beings – including women and children.
“Sex trafficking is a supply and demand business, and our focus is on the demand side of the equation,” said Perez. “This means we seek to directly engage men, either as allies in the fight against trafficking or buyers driving the market that creates it.”
The EPIK Project works by directly disrupting sex trafficking transactions. Organizers place decoy ads online targeting sex buyers. Then, when the buyers try to contact the ad, one of EPIK’s volunteers picks up instead – and starts a conversation.
The volunteers consist of men who are trained in the realities of sex trafficking and how to engage with buyers. They speak to them about the damage they’re causing – and the systematic role they play in perpetuating human trafficking as a whole.
“As we talk to buyers, one of the most common misconceptions is that what they’re doing is simply engaging in a consensual financial transaction (sex for money) between two equal parties. We try to tell these guys that what appears to be a harmless transaction is in actuality an exchange that perpetuates a dangerous, violent and unjust business system.”
Perez says there are many misconceptions that lead buyers to believe that what they’re doing is innocuous – and typical behavior.
“I think one of the most persistent misconceptions or ‘myths’ is that sex buying is something every guy does. But the best and most recent research suggests otherwise. The vast majority of adult men in America never buy sex, never drive the demand that leads to sex trafficking,” said Perez.
“There is also the misconception that if a woman says she’s 18, it’s all good cause she’s legally an adult. The flaw in this thinking is that the elements of trafficking (force, fraud, coercion) can still exist even for women over 18, so at the very least, the buyer is likely perpetuating exploitation,” according to Perez. “Or worse, the women purchased often say they’re over 18 when in fact many are actually underage. We’ve worked extensively with trafficking victims across the country on making sure our message on this point is accurate.”
Perez says that along with educating buyers on the harm they’re causing, both to their communities and to themselves, EPIK is also about giving men a role to play in combatting sex trafficking.
“I think our bigger impact is being seen in the fact that we’re giving men (non-buyers) an effective and dynamic way to get involved in this fight,” said Perez. “For too long, there were too few things for the average guy to do about this evil that is destroying the lives of kids and young women. But our work provides a path-to-action for the ‘everyman,’ the E in EPIK, the name stands for ‘Everyman Protecting Innocent Kids.'”
Ultimately, Perez says the organization works to shift the culture from tolerating, and even normalizing buying sex, through the simple act of conversation.
“We’re just guys trying to speak the truth to other guys about what sexual exploitation does to the victim, themselves and their communities,” said Perez.
The Fast Ride will begin at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Check-in starts at 7:30 a.m. on 6th and Williams Street. Lunch will be provided, along with a rider swag bag and a T-shirt.
The cost is $79.00 with proceeds benefiting each of the organizations hosting the event that work to fight human trafficking. You can learn more about the Fast Ride, as well as register, here.
Organizers are also teaming up with Indian Motorcycles to raffle off an Indian Scout motorcycle, with proceeds from the raffle benefiting the cause. The winning ticket will be drawn on Aug. 9. You can learn more here.