Fear dominates the lives of young girls who live in brothels. They are silenced and commanded by an oppressor who beats, rapes and threatens them. They are sold and minimized to property. With this lifestyle, how can they hope for freedom, or even hope?
On July 2, 2015, Mike Rutter and George Cook completed a 3,000-mile bike ride across the United States. Their reason for the 40-day ride? To raise awareness of human trafficking victims and extreme poverty.
The pair began their endeavor in Santa Monica, California on May 24. The cycling tour, Break the Chains, was a mission to raise money and attention for victims of poverty and violence.
According to the U.S. Department of State, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year.
George Cook says he first realized this was such a problem when he was 13 and noticed shackles hanging in a money manager’s office. The manager told him, “Oh, those are for a slave.” Cook says he was dumbfounded, thinking “Lincoln freed the slaves,” so where were they now? The manager responded, “Well it’s going on all over the world with people being bought and sold and held in captivity.”
Like Cook, Rutter also learned about human trafficking and poverty firsthand. Remembering his first trip to India, he says, “[A child] begged me for his survival. He was surrounded by other children just like him—a generation plagued by the cycle of poverty, something most of us can’t understand.”
Rutter said, “We are simply riding a bike, but through that simple act, we have the opportunity to change a life.”
Working with Bright Hope, an organization that strives to offer opportunity and hope to those who live on less than one dollar a day, the pair provides voices for the victims who are unable to speak for themselves.
On their 40-day bike ride, the pair was followed by a 24-foot RV that was painted with the Break the Chains logo. At every stop, the men received questions and interest.
When asked how they powered through 90 miles each day in varying weather elements, Rutter said, “The girls we are trying to do this for, they don’t have a choice what’s happening to them that day so we’re going to plow ahead.”
To help motivate them further, they ride with pictures of the girls with their stories written on the back. Rutter said it was a reminder that although they may be going through a bit of pain, “it’s nothing compared to the pain that these victims go through on a daily basis.”
Throughout their tour, Cook and Rutter hoped to raise $1 million. With these donations, they plan to train more police officers to bring brothel owners to justice, as well as establish rehabilitation centers for the children that they rescue.
Cook recognizes the correlation between poverty and human trafficking. He says, “Where there is poverty, people do not have the money to pay for a detective or prosecutor. They don’t have money and can barely survive so they get taken advantage of.”
In addition to working with Bright Hope, the pair works closely with the International Justice Mission (IJM), which rescues and assists victims of violence.
On July 2, Cook and Rutter completed the 3,000 miles in Sandy Point State Park in Maryland. They raised $256,592 dollars.
To learn more or donate to the cause, visit BrightHope.org.
– Kelsey Parrotte