Jeff Bodem wants to send a message.
This week the Baxter resident plans to unfurl a banner on the top of Mt. Rainier, with fellow climbers Tony Monaco of Charlotte and Kate Gruber of Tampa, Fla., to raise awareness of human trafficking. All three work for Lexis Nexis, which has partnered with the Somaly Mam Foundation to raise awareness about and fight human trafficking and sex slavery.
"I have three young daughters, my kids inspired me to do it," Bodem said. "One thing I've tried to teach them is one person can make a difference."
Girls as young as 5 are sold into sexual slavery every day for as little as $10, according to the Somaly Mam Foundation (www.somaly.org). Between 2 million and 4 million children are forced to work as prostitutes each year. It is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world, raking in an estimated $7 billion to $12 billion annually.
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The foundation has managed to rescue more than 4,000 girls from brothels over the past 11 years, providing shelter, counseling and job training. It even offers microfinancing to help the women start their own businesses.
"It's not just a Southeast Asia problem," Bodem said. "It's worldwide, even in the U.S., even locally."
On Monday, the Charlotte Observer reported that police in Monroe, N.C., closed down a massage parlor allegedly operating as a brothel and charged the owner with human trafficking. York County Sheriff's Office officials suspected human trafficking was also involved in the cases of two Fort Mill brothels shut down a couple of years ago, but were never able to file human trafficking charges, according to York County Drug Enforcement Unit Commander Marvin Brown.
"All of those ladies were older, but someone paid their way in (to the U.S.), and they moved around from New York to Atlanta to Charlotte," Brown said.
All of the women involved were eventually deported, Brown added. But recently he was informed that one of the women had reentered the country and had been arrested in New York. The unit also raided a Rock Hill apartment last year and removed three women allegedly working as prostitutes. Human trafficking was also suspected in that case but never proven, he said.
Bodem hopes to get more people locally involved in the fight against 21st Century slavery. Along his way to the summit, Bodem is asking people to log on to the Somaly Mam Foundation and to another Web site, www.redlightchildren.org, and get involved.
Both sites accept donations, and the Red Light Children site also includes forms to help people write their congressmen and senators to request stiffer laws against human trafficking and tougher sanctions against countries that allow the practice to flourish.
"If you want to fix this, you have to fix the demand side," Bodem said. "These are westerners going over there and hiding out in these countries."
Bodem and his partners have been training for the climb for the past year. They've scaled a 10,000-foot mountain in Arizona and a 12,500-foot mountain in Colorado. Mt. Rainier ascends to 14,410 feet. It is the tallest peak in the lower 48 states, the only U.S. mountain taller is Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, in Alaska.
When he wasn't off making practice climbs, Bodem was trekking across the township trails in Baxter and on the Anne Springs Close Greenway with a 40-pound backpack and trekking poles, climbing the stair climber at the Baxter YMCA with his pack on and running 10 miles every day.
Throughout all the training, his wife Rachel and their three daughters have been supportive even as Bodem has had less time to spend with them.
"I've always wanted to do something like this," he adds.
The journey is not without risk, but that is part of the point. The climbers will only have a 65 percent chance of getting to the summit because the weather near the peak can be unpredictable. On average, three to five people die on Mt. Rainier every year.
Portions of the climb have to be made at night, because during the day, sunlight can soften patches of ice and lead to falling rocks. One section in particular is referred to as "the gauntlet."
"You don't stop, you move quickly through that area," Bodem said. "A mountain environment offers a great opportunity to challenge yourself and see what you're made of."
Bodem said he stopped taking risks when his first daughter Morgan was born 10 years ago. He now has two other daughters, Jamie, 7, and Cameron, 6 months, but he never lost the desire to challenge himself. Before deciding to scale a mountain, he said, his biggest fear was heights.
"Something like this involves a risk, but I think about what lesson do I want to teach my kids: what have I done with my life?" Bodem said.
Some risks are worth taking, especially if you believe in the cause, he said. "If this is my mid-life crisis, it's cheaper than a Corvette," he said.