Certain tragic stories can elicit two kinds of responses — anger or motivation to create change.
Roger DeHart chose the latter.
The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., resident is currently on an on-foot journey from his hometown to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of human trafficking.
“My whole goal on this walk is to really bring out more untold stories,” said DeHart, who stopped in Brunswick this weekend. “Hopefully, through people seeing my sacrifice, they’ll feel like ‘You know what, if he’s doing this, let me at least talk about what I’ve gone through.’”
Sex trafficking is a billion dollar industry that affects millions of people, worldwide and in the United States.
As DeHart learned more about this international crisis and the stories of manipulation and entrapment that exist in his own community — and in communities across the country —he felt compelled to bring those stories to light and make more people pay attention.
“It wasn’t being talked about. That bothered me,” he said Saturday, while he took a break from walking to have dinner at Tipsy McSway’s restaurant in downtown Brunswick. “The first thing I thought about was I remember back in the days when they had a ‘war on drugs,’ and you saw billboards and there were all types of campaigns going. And with this, it’s such a battle to get it exposed.”
In Broward Country, where DeHart works as a court baliff, he said human trafficking isn’t an issue that gets enough attention.
“It’s an ugly topic. People don’t want to talk about it in schools down there,” he said. “But I want my kids to recognize the red flags and see what could be a potential harm for them.”
So about seven months ago, DeHart founded the nonprofit ‘First S.T.O.P.,’ which stands for ‘saving teens and others from predators,’ and he began preparations for his walk, which he’s dubbed the ‘No More Miles Walk.’
“It’s to bring awareness to human trafficking and find ways to prevent it, and really to help survivors,” he said. “My goal is to start a safe house in Ft. Lauderdale, because there aren’t any there.”
DeHart began his walk March 31. He’ll need to be in Washington, D.C., by May 19 for a rally his nonprofit has organized outside the U.S. Capitol in Union Square.
He’s reserved the space for 1,000 people, and the event will include survivors and politicians who will make a call for action to address sex trafficking.
In total, his walk will be 1,065 miles long.
“Man, that hurts,” he joked Saturday.
Because of his walk, DeHart said he frequently receives message through social media from sex trafficking survivors who thank him for his effort and who share their own harrowing stories of their experience being trapped in the industry.
“Hearing from them personally, just what they’ve gone through, it really makes you have a passion and makes you want to do something,” he said.
The stories are out there but often aren’t shared, he said. His walk aims to change that.
Through every community he walks through on his way, he said he’s trying to bring people’s attention to these atrocities happening in their own backyards.
“Everywhere, even in the smallest of towns, this is going on,” DeHart said. “My goal is just to run my mouth in every town I go to.”
These stories demand a reaction, he said. And he hopes people will choose to react by helping to create change.
“It makes you want to do one of two things — it makes you want to do something about it, or you get angry and do nothing about it,” he said. “It causes for a reaction, either way.”
DeHart’s journey can be followed on his Facebook page, at facebook.com/roger.dehart.92.