Anaiah Walker’s Family Seeks to Raise Awareness about Sex Trafficking a Year after her Death


Photo submitted by Ashriel Walker

Maneeya Leung

“A fever dream.” 

That’s how Destiny Martin describes remembering Anaiah Walker. Walker was her first cousin, but all Martin has for memories are pictures, stories from her family and news headlines.

At the age of sixteen, Anaiah was found dead on the I-10 highway in Buckeye, Arizona on May 22nd, 2020. According to her family, she was a victim of sex trafficking, targeted and roped into the industry as early as in her young teens. They believe that these events ultimately lead to the circumstances of her death, which is still currently ruled as a hit-and-run.

A year later, Martin says she and her family are increasingly aware of the issue of sex trafficking. 

Ashriel Walker, Anaiah’s aunt, recalls being “devastated” when she learned of Anaiah’s involvement in sex trafficking: “It’s not something that I would love to see anybody compromise–you know, their dignity, their future in general.”

“Anaiah had a future, and it didn’t stop at her being forced into sex trafficking,” says Ashriel Walker. Ashriel remembers Anaiah as “compassionate”, “intelligent” and “goofy.” She played the violin as a hobby and talked about becoming a teacher or scientist.

She remembers how when Anaiah was seven years old, at Ashriel’s mother’s funeral, Anaiah went through the crowd comforting all her aunts and uncles. “She was such a sweetheart, and she was beyond her years.”

“I could just be driving and I’m in tears within seconds and it just makes me sick to my stomach every time I think of the situation she was in,” says Ashriel.

In the aftermath of Anaiah’s death, Ashriel seeks to raise awareness against trafficking. She has talked to other victims of sex trafficking to learn their stories. She feels obligated to comment and put a stop to posts on Facebook glorifying sex trafficking or luring something in,

All her siblings feel the same, she says. “I just want people to know that it’s very real and it’s right under our noses. It’s in our communities. And I just feel like nobody’s really batting an eye to the depth of all this.”

Although Ashriel speaks from Arizona, her statement rings true to Christine Erickson, head coordinator of the Stop the Trafficking 5K in Eden Prairie. “This is not just an international problem,” says Erickson about human trafficking. “This is happening right here, and it’s happening in our cities and it’s actually happening in our communities. In Eden Prairie, and really everywhere–no community is immune to this issue.” 

Erickson started work against human trafficking with the organization Breaking Free, helping out at their transitional home for victims of trafficking. 

Eventually, with the support of the community, she was able to start the 5K eight years ago. The goal of the 5k is to raise money for organizations that fight trafficking, both locally and worldwide, and overall promote awareness in the community about the issue. 

Much like the situation of Anaiah, Erickson explains that in many situations, sex trafficking commences over the internet with traffickers targeting the “vulnerabilities of young people.” She says that although victims may not be physically trapped, they can be trapped emotionally, with many victims struggling to get out of the lifestyle due to shame and threats or Stockholm Syndrome.

“Awareness is huge,” she says. According to Erickson, it can help adults recognize how to protect their children from social media or identify at-risk children. “We can’t act if we don’t know what the problem is, so really awareness is the starting point.” She sees the 5K, which takes place this year on June 12th, as a starting point for anyone wanting to get involved with being part of the solution.

Martin urges fellow students to take part in the 5k and raise their awareness about human trafficking, hoping that no one has to go through the same regret that and her family experienced.  How does she describe justice for Anaiah? Having her story help other victims “get out of the situation they’re in,” she says.