Coast-to-coast walk brings attention to human trafficking victims

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by CHANCE HORNER

WFAA Photojournalist

Posted on March 22, 2014 at 1:34 PM

Updated Saturday, Mar 22 at 1:49 PM

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Traveling coast-to-coast takes a couple hours by plane, and a few days by car.

It takes much longer on foot.

"Out of about the last 200 days I've been walking, I've had about two or three [times when] I've been out in the middle of nowhere, my calves are burning and I thought, 'What am I doing out here?'" Chance Stephens said.

He embarked on a cross-country walk to raise awareness about human trafficking — an issue that hits close to home.

"I have three friends that were sexually abused as children and this is my way to fight back," Stephens said.

He's walking to Palm Bay, Florida and then on to Virginia Beach, Virginia after starting his journey in Santa Monica, California in September 2013. Stephens is sometimes offered a place to sleep by friends or supporters, but most nights are spent along the side of a road.

"Things need to change," Stephens said. "For me to save up a little cash and walk across America to speak out against human trafficking, no big deal."

Along the way, he suffered a hip injury. A supporter who heard him speak at her church offered to let him stay her house until he was well enough to continue. That is where he met the man that would partner with him in his journey.

"Their son Jacob was like, 'I want to go with you,'" Stephens said. "And I said, 'Pack your bags, man!'"

Jacob Leonard recently dropped out of college and was living at home. When he heard about Stephens' story, he felt inspired to go with him.

"This is my calling to go do something like this," Leonard said. "This is my go. This is what I need to be doing."

What was once a solitary journey is now a shared experience.

"A lot of people have to go through something difficult before they would prevent it from happening again," Stephens said. "But if I can be one of the people to stand up right now, maybe I can get more people like Jacob to join in."

Stephens and Leonard are raising money for Tiny Hands International, a non-profit organization that helps victims of the sex trafficking industry.

"I want people to stand up and say, 'I don't agree with trafficking,' and 'I don't agree with women and little girls and boys being exploited sexually. Just so one man can get rich'" Stephens said. "Why can't we just stand up? Why can't we just tell them it's wrong?"

You can find out more about Walk America and see an updated map of Stephens' progress at the A Chance For [      ] website.

E-mail chorner@wfaa.com

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