It's not uncommon to see large groups of people walk around downtown Anchorage. Few, though, make their way like those in Town Square Park over the weekend.

Hundreds of community members left the park on Saturday without shoes or socks as part of the annual Alaska Barefoot Mile. Priceless Alaska hosted the event to raise awareness of human trafficking. The organization works with survivors of sex trafficking in Alaska as they work to build healthy, vibrant, self-sustaining lives.

"The trafficking of women and children is the second-fastest growing crime on Alaskan soil," said Priceless Alaska executive director Gwen Adams. "It's exploding in new ways that we never dreamed and it has to be stopped."

According to the latest data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 12 cases of human trafficking were reported in Alaska in 2018 — two more from the previous year. Since 2012, Alaska has had 58 reported cases of human trafficking.

The Barefoot Mile is a 1-mile walk around downtown Anchorage where participants walk without shoes or socks in solidarity with children in poverty — those who are most vulnerable to trafficking.

"The number of victims that we've been able to walk with, that seemed to be a common theme was when they were rescued and came into our program, a lot of them didn't have coat or shoes, and that was one of the ways that a trafficker would keep them from escaping," Adams said.

Dr. Jeff Brodsky is the man behind the Barefoot Mile. While helping feed children living near a garbage dump in July 2010 in Cambodia, he noticed almost all of those at risk of being taken by predators were barefoot.

When he got back to his hotel room, he couldn’t get the images of those children out of his mind and pledged to walk in solidarity with those children and others at a high risk of being trafficked. He has been barefoot ever since.

Brodsky said it actually wasn't his decision to start the Barefoot Mile. The idea came from a group of young teenagers in Ohio about three years after he began his barefoot journey.

"The kids were really impressed with what you shared. They want to help you raise money for your fight against trafficking," the director of the teen group told Brodksy at the time. "They want to walk a mile barefoot. They want to call it the Barefoot Mile."

Brodsky said he thought the idea was really cool and that's when the Barefoot Mile was born. The walks are now happening worldwide.

In 2018, the Alaska Barefoot Mile raised over $217,000 to fight human trafficking with more than 550 walkers, 65 volunteers and 300 donors.

Elizabeth Roman contributed to this report.

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