After canceling the annual Walk for Freedom in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I've Got a Name, a local nonprofit that fights sex trafficking in Lincoln and throughout Nebraska, resumed the event April 24.
After hearing presentations by local leaders from I’ve Got a Name, about 200 attendees walked from the Pinnacle Bank Arena Festival Lot across the West Haymarket pedestrian bridge, then circled back around through the west downtown area.
Many walkers carried signs with messages like "Enough is enough," "Real men protect women and children" and "Look closer ... it is happening HERE."
“The pandemic caused us to cancel our walk last year, which was hard for us … because our Walk for Freedom not only serves as an awareness event, but also a place of healing for victims and survivors in our community,” explained Paul Yates, executive director of I’ve Got a Name.
Yates said the pandemic caused a significant increase in local sex trafficking. Based on numbers collected by Creighton University’s Human Trafficking Initiative study, he said that 900 girls are sold in Nebraska each month, often multiple times, and 200 girls are sold each month right here in Lincoln.
Megan Johnson-Cook, street outreach director, said her outreach efforts have spiked since the start of the pandemic due to an increase in vulnerability among girls and women.
“I feel blessed that these girls and women feel comfortable with me and trust me,” she said. “My work is not easy, but it’s necessary. The dedication of each and every one of you who showed up today is what gives me strength to keep going on hard days.”
A Men's Movement was introduced at the Walk for Freedom by its coordinator, Alex Rousseau. The new movement will educate and encourage men to become actively involved in the fight against sex trafficking, he said.
“It’s time we acknowledge the driving force behind sex trafficking – the demand – the buyers and sellers,” Rousseau told the event’s participants. “We seek to help men grow in character, reject passivity, accept responsibility and become a strong voice of advocacy and respect for women.
“Every girl is valuable, not only because she’s someone’s daughter of someone’s sister, but simply because she is a human, not a product,” he continued. “Until men start to fight for that, the fight will never end.”
The Men’s Movement will introduce red flag bearers at major sporting events around Nebraska to publicly show that they stand against sex trafficking and encourage those around them to become a champion, not a buyer. Major sporting events, although not the fault of the event, often attract an increase in sex trafficking due to an influx of people, Rousseau said.
Several men carried red flags at the Walk for Freedom event.
For more information about I’ve Got a Name and the new Men’s Movement, visit www.ivegotaname.org.