The Second Annual Race Against Trafficking 5K is scheduled for Saturday, April 29 at Mountain View Church (940 Israel Road) in Tumwater. Sponsored by The Law Offices of Harold Carr, the race is organized by Thurston County Coalition Against Trafficking (TCCAT) and its parent organization, Washington Engage, with the goal of raising funds to educate the community about this under-investigated crime happening to children throughout the area.

“This topic is greatly misunderstood and under-detected,” says Rose Gundersen, co-founder of Washington Engage and TCCAT. Rose also helps organize the race each year. “People don’t understand that it’s illegal and often the children don’t understand what they are doing. They don’t have words to describe what it is.”

Because of this, Washington Engage, whose mission is to prevent human trafficking through education and engaging communities, and TCCAT, whose mission is to prevent human trafficking through community partnerships, decided to create a 5K run to raise much needed funds bringing this issues to the public’s attention. In addition, the funds will equip those that come in contact with children (law officers, teachers, parents, staff at schools, etc.) with the right information to help prevent trafficking as well as identify victims.

Race against trafficking 5K
Volunteers for the Race Against Trafficking 5K, along with sponsors like The Law Offices of Harold Carr, make the event possible. Photo credit: Shelly Lynn Metzger Photography

The 2016 inaugural run had 200 participants and helped fund a project aligned with the missions of both groups. “It was really exciting,” Rose says. “We were able to raise enough money to develop a program called ‘Take On Olympia’ for the Thurston County Juvenile Center (TCJC).”

During the first year, the program developed by Washington Engage focused on training staff at TCJC about sex trafficking, including how to recognize victims and those at risk of becoming victims. “At first, the staff at the Juvenile Center didn’t even really think this happened here,” says Rose. “But now they have training and have changed the way they work, including how they do intakes. They are very thankful for the program and the support it is giving them.”

Now in its second year, the program is working directly with the juveniles who are at risk or already in the system to share what trafficking looks like and the legal issues surrounding it. The program has helped identified victims and remove them from harmful situations. “After one talk, a girl came to us and said she was pretty sure she was a victim,” Rose says. “That she had been selling and her boyfriend was taking the money. It is happening in Thurston County.”  In 2016 alone, Washington State Patrol arrested 21 people from Thurston County as part of a sex trafficking ring with underage children.

Help In Schools

Race against trafficking 5K
Rose Gunderson has been with Washington Engage since before it began and is dedicated to helping end human trafficking in our local community and beyond. Photo credit: Washington Engage

This year’s run will fund a youth trafficking prevention program in Thurston County schools at the middle and high school levels. “A program like this does not exist at all at the moment,” Rose explains. “And it’s needed. The average age of victims is twelve to thirteen years old, both nationally and locally. So we need to reach these kids.”

The program will have three parts to spread awareness and, with that, prevention. First, program guides will train all school staff – from teachers to janitors – about the issue and how to approach students. “We know that sometimes students are not comfortable speaking with their teachers, but they might feel someone else – a janitor for example ­– will listen. We want everyone to be prepared.”

Second, a topic meeting will be held for parents sharing what sex trafficking is, how perpetrators target children and how parents can help prevent their child from becoming a victim. Finally, teachers will be trained on how to integrate this subject into their classroom and discuss it with their students. “We will provide this as on-going training and support for teachers so they can come back to us if they have a question or something arises they are unsure about,” Rose adds.

Schools can apply for program grants shortly after the Race Against Trafficking 5K by contacting Washington Engage.

Run to Help Spread Awareness

Race against trafficking 5K
Last year was the first run with about 200 participants, including families and their four-legged members, to support the cause. Photo credit: Washington Engage

In order for the TCCAT to get this important program into our schools, they need the Race Against Trafficking 5K to be a success. Prizes will be awarded for the biggest teams, including restaurant gift cards and a wine-tasting party. Before the race, a representative from the Thurston County Juvenile Center will give a brief testimony sharing how the program has helped them.

Super Early Bird Registration for the 5K run is $27 until April 15. Early Bird registration is $30 from April 16 to April 27. Regular registration is $35. Youths 17 and under are $10. Register now through the Washington Engage website. More information is available by emailing RAT5Krun@gmail.com.

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