Pair aims to raise awareness
Mary Wittman knew that she had to do something more than just give money to a cause that was near to her heart.
She enlisted her friend, Gerry Kimmell, to commit to walking the length of the Florida Keys to help raise money, but more importantly, awareness, of the thriving human trafficking and sex slavery trade.
“People don’t realize that a cute kid you see in the grocery store could be one of those kids,” Kimmell told The Weekly. “You just never know.”
Wittman, a childhood victim of parental abuse, said her heart went out to the women and children who’ve been drawn into the sex trade.
“I have the freedom and ability to walk from one key to the next without any problems, but these women can’t leave a room until they’ve serviced as many as 40 men a day,” Wittman lamented.
The pair began their trek this week on Whitman’s 59th birthday with a goal of reaching Key West on 11-11-11.
With orange vests emblazoned with “Be His Freedom” and “Be Her Freedom” across their backs, the pair drove to the 106 Mile Marker Tuesday morning.
“It was harder than I thought it’d be,” Wittman admitted, noting that with her own bad knee and a walking partner stricken with rheumatoid arthritis, they could only commit to walking 10 to 12 miles each day.
Tim Gratz is a strategist with the Keys Coalition, a group of civic and business leaders who have come together to fight the scourge of modern day slavery, especially sex trafficking in the United States.
He got involved because he has a teenage daughter, and at 14, she is the target age for predators.“Young girls are forced into the sex trade, and then their families are threatened,” Gratz said. “Once you know about it, it’s not something you can turn away from.”
According to the State Department’s 2011 report on Human Trafficking, there are 27,000,000 slaves in the world today; 80 percent are women, more than 50 percent are children and over 300,000 children are at risk every day in the United States.
Gratz said Kathy Tuell, CEO of the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter, has documented five cases of human trafficking and currently has 14 suspected cases pending.
“To us, five is too many,” Gratz noted. “We always think it’s an international issue, but it’s going on right here in our own back yard.”