Anti-trafficking activists stop in Jefferson City during cross-country walk

Jay Atlas lifts one foot to show the wear on his hiking boot.

There are large cracks in the rubber and holes are starting to appear in the leather near the sole. The wear and tear is to be expected on a trip taking Atlas and his friend Shannon Sprowal from coast to coast on foot.

One of Atlas' boots sports "NJ" on the toe, written in red permanent marker, representing the friends' starting location. The other features the initials of their final destination, Los Angeles.

Atlas and Sprowal are walking across the country to raise awareness of human trafficking in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking is defined as compelling or coercing a person to perform labor, services or commercial sex acts. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that roughly 8 out of every 10 cases of suspected human trafficking investigated between January 2008 and June 2010 involved sex trafficking, while about 1 in 10 involved labor trafficking.

"A lot of people haven't even heard of human trafficking," Sprowal said. "The more people know about it, the more something can get done."

The two men say they were inspired by Alex Sheen, who walked across Ohio this summer to raise awareness of sexual abuse after three women were freed from Ariel Castro's home. Sprowal said he and Atlas planned out a route but ended up not taking it, instead going wherever they felt they needed to go. The two Norristown, Pa. natives have just come from a short visit to Chicago. Kansas City is their next stop. They said they cover as many as 30 miles a day. Sometimes people let them sleep in their houses. Other times, they spend the night in homeless shelters, as they will do tonight in Jefferson City. In rural areas, they sleep in a tent.

Atlas said he and Sprowal like going on adventures, and he said he thought they should do something meaningful. He said they spent several months trying to put a more elaborate walk together with a larger group, but those plans fell through. He said the people they have met on their journey have been extremely helpful and very supportive of their efforts.

Once the men reach Los Angeles, Atlas said he wants to start a nonprofit to assist charity efforts.