A group of local volunteers have organized Darien’s first annual Tread on Trafficking walk to fundraise and increase awareness of human trafficking in Connecticut. The walk will begin at 9 a.m. on September 30 at Noroton Presbyterian Church and will go down to Tilley Pond Park. Tickets are available online and all proceeds from the event will be donated in support of Love 146, an international human rights organization focused on combating trafficking and the exploitation of children.

Darien resident Julie Napolitano said she decided to take action against human trafficking after attending a panel discussion hosted by the Grace Farms Foundation in New Canaan. Napolitano told the Times that plans for the Tread on Trafficking walk were hatched in her living room after she reached out to interested friends from around Connecticut.

“I knew there were things that happen right here locally,” Napolitano said. “It can be found in restaurants, it can be found right on the I-95 corridor. I started mentioning it to people I know; this meeting happened organically in my living room and we decided to go for it.”

Trafficking is defined as the trade of people for forced labor or sexual exploitation. The practice is often described as a modern-day form of slavery. Because victims are financially dependent on their abusers outside intervention is necessary to break the cycle of dependence. The International Labour Organization estimates about 1.5 million cases of forced labor in North America overall, many of which go unreported.

Earlier this year police arrested a Westport man and a Glastonbury man for operating a trafficking ring for more than 20 years. According to the CT Post police identified approximately 15 male victims of that ring, many of whom suffered from mental illness. Connecticut’s Human Anti-trafficking Response Team (HART) targets child sex trafficking within the state as a part of the state Department of Children & Families. HART responded to 202 reported cases of child trafficking during 2016.

“They really do need us, because there are people that are enslaved, Napolitano said. “When you’re enslaved you rely on someone coming in and physically removing you and freeing you. That’s not something that’s just overseas or for third-world countries, it’s here.”

Though this is the first year for the Tread on Trafficking Walk, Napolitano plans to continuing growing the initiative into an annual event. This year’s walk is certainly a step in the right direction to raise awareness for an ongoing issue of human rights. She hopes that next year can bring live music and food, along with increased participation from Love 146 to provide more information on Connecticut’s human trafficking problem.

Tickets for the Tread on Trafficking Walk are available online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2017-tread-on-trafficking-walk-tickets-37317203761. Visit CT against slavery on Facebook to get involved in the local fight against human trafficking.