Photos Courtesy of Davis Constructors and Engineers Inc.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children is not a topic likely to be trotted out at a dinner party. But it’s a very real problem, both in Alaska and globally. It’s the fastest-growing crime in the world today, according to Joy International, an organization founded to stop human trafficking.
Priceless Alaska shares the goal of eliminating human trafficking and sexual slavery; it says the crime is one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative crimes in our state. Since the organization began building bridges to a healthy life for trafficking survivors six years ago, more than 130 people have been referred to Priceless.
Davis Constructors & Engineers is helping the two groups by organizing the Alaska Barefoot Mile. This year marked the event’s second year in Anchorage, and Davis’ marketing director Jenith Flynn said the fundraiser met key goals: Participation and money raised were both higher in 2018 than in 2017, and the event exceeded Davis’ goals of having more than 500 participants raising more than $200,000.
“We are really happy with how it turned out,” Flynn said.
In its first year, the Alaska Barefoot Mile logged 358 walkers and raised $203,000. This year, 509 people shed their shoes on May 19 and walked the course, raising more than $217,000. Joy International founder Jeff Brodsky said it’s the largest amount raised by any Barefoot Mile in the U.S.
“It’s astounding. They’ve set the bar am really blessed, and I’m really glad we made the decision to keep half local.”
The money raised is split between Joy International and Priceless Alaska, which is based in Anchorage.
Joy International uses its share for global operations, including providing training in Cambodia, a trafficking hotspot, for special police SWAT teams dedicated to freeing children and young women from captivity. Each training for about 25 police officers costs between $12,000 and $15,000, Brodsky said. The organization tries to hold four training sessions a year.
Additionally, last year Brodsky conducted training for employees at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to help them recognize trafficking happening at the airport.
“The reason it’s called trafficking is because girls are trafficked from one place to another,” Brodsky said. In Alaska, that generally means an airplane flight.
So far, Joy International has hosted two Alaska training events, and Brodsky plans to return in November to provide a third. Everyone, from pilots and attendants to baggage handlers and airport maintenance workers, is invited to attend the training, he said. He said he also plans to hold airport trainings in Juneau, Fairbanks and other regional airports in Alaska.
With its half of the money raised Priceless Alaska provides a safe house for victims of trafficking and pays for mentorships and other opportunities for people referred to the program. Referrals mostly come from the FBI, the State Troopers, Anchorage Police Department and probation officers.
The organization recently started a men’s outreach to work with men who have been “johns” and guide them to a healthy life.
Priceless Alaska executive director Gwen Adams said the organization couldn’t survive without the help of the money raised through Alaska Barefoot Mile. The event also offers the ability to gain mentors for women who need to learn how to navigate life outside of the sex industry.
“Priceless is a networking agency — we work to partner people with survivors,” she said. “Each person gets a mentor, they partner for as long as the relationship needs to continue.”
The partnership between Davis Constructors, Priceless Alaska and Joy International is fitting, Flynn said. Davis employees belong to the Davis Employee Foundation, which, along with the Alaska Communities Foundation, distributes money to local charitable groups around Christmas each year.
“We have a history of helping women and children and people who need a little help,” she said. “When we learned about this event, we thought that it was something that would be impactful.”
Organizers want to help Alaskans understand that human trafficking is happening here, in this state, not in some far-flung region of the world.
“I think the No. 1 question we used to get is, does this really happen here?” Adams said. It happens a lot in Alaska.
AGC in the Community, an initiative of AGC Charities, a group designed to showcase the community service awards of AGC of America’s chapters and members, recognized Davis for its work in organizing the Alaska Barefoot Mile at the 2018 AGC of America conference.
The next Alaska Barefoot Mile is already being planned for May 11, 2019.
Rindi White is the editor of The Alaska Contractor.