‘Free the Captives’ motorbike ride aims to raise human trafficking awareness

Motorcyclists on bikes of all shapes and sizes are encouraged to participate in the Free the Captives Benefit Run on Saturday morning to bring awareness and raise funds in the fight against human trafficking along the Interstate 81 corridor.

The ride is hosted by the Valley Human Trafficking Initiative (HTI), a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to helping victims of both sex and labor trafficking and working with area law enforcement to help battle the problem.

Pastor William Shifflett,  of the Reasoning Tree Church in Edinburg, organized the benefit run on behalf of the Valley HTI after he attended a presentation on the issue in April at the Toms Brook United Methodist Church. It was there that Ken Blackwell, co-director of the Valley HTI, spoke about the organization’s need for funding and publicity.

Shifflett said that he organizes an annual ride for the Shenandoah Pregnancy Center, and that he wanted to do something similar for the Valley HTI.

“Here’s something that I can do,” Shifflett said. “It’s not much, but it’s something.”

Virginia is one of the Top 5 human trafficking areas in the country, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Virginia is a target for sex trafficking of minors because of the heavy tourist population, military presence and the concentration of migrant workers in the state.

Many organizations that advocate against human trafficking are faith-based, as was the case with the Hearts and Hands women’s group in Toms Brook that organized the April presentation. Shifflett said that it’s natural for faith-based people to get involved in human issues like this.

“Faith-based people have a fundamental conviction that all people are created in the image of God, and therefore have intrinsic human worth,” Shifflett said. “It must be said, of course, that there are numerous people who do not make any kind of faith claim that are very active in the human trafficking [fight].”

Registration for the ride is set to begin at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, with “kick stands up” at 9 a.m. The 100-mile ride will begin and end at the Grove’s Winchester Harley Davidson in Winchester, and a police escort will help the group navigate through traffic while in Winchester. Riders will make a “big loop” to Front Royal and back, Shifflett said.

There is a suggested donation of $15 per bike and $20 for a bike with a passenger, but the donation is not mandatory for participation. The Valley HTI plans to stay at the Grove’s Winchester Harley Davidson through the duration of the ride to offer information about the issue to anyone who is interested.

“We want people there, even if they’re not inclined or have the capacity to donate today,” Blackwell said. “Just to be there in the fellowship of it and the advocacy — to learn more about it is important as well.”

Blackwell explained that the Valley HTI, in a partnership with the Winchester Rescue Mission, plans to use money raised from this event to fund a new homeless shelter for women in Winchester, which he said is a huge need for trafficking victims as well.

“Our specific interest in it is to have a place that will also be a home where we can house victims of human trafficking on a short-term basis until we can place them into a longer-term recovery program,” Blackwell said.

There is no pre-registration for the ride, so anyone interested is encouraged to simply attend. Blackwell added that anyone who is interested in helping the cause is welcome to contact the Valley HTI on  Facebook,  www.facebook.com/ValleyHTI.