Race to raise awareness of sex traffickingWritten by Paige Shermis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The house looks like any other in Wood County. Fresh bananas hang in the kitchen. Polka-dotted curtains are tied back to let in sunlight. Flowers adorn a neatly set table.
However, the abode is unlike any other in the state. It is a recovery residence for adolescent survivors of sex trafficking, run by the Daughter Project, whose mission is to build and operate these types of homes. It is the only such home in the state with this specific purpose.
“I was reading real-life stories of trafficking and I was just shocked from what I was reading. Not only in places like Thailand and India, but in our country too. I thought slavery was over in the United States,” said Jeff Wilbarger, founder of the Daughter Project.
To raise awareness about sex trafficking and the charity itself, the Daughter Project is having a “Source of Hope” 5K Race/Walk at 7 p.m. June 28 at Oak Openings Preserve.
“If there are any extra monies raised, it will go to the girls,” said Maggie Billings, a member of the Daughter Project’s awareness committee. Billings also is a member of the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition and the Ohio Human Trafficking Commission’s Subcommittee for Demand Reduction.
“If you look at trafficking, it’s supply and demand. The girls are the supply side, and the demand side is the [people] that solicit them. If you don’t have demand, you don’t need the supply,” Billings said.
The cost of the 5K is $15, which comes with a T-shirt. People can register online at thedaughterproject.org or at the race, but the former is preferred. Anyone is invited to participate.
Ed O’Reilly of the Toledo Roadrunners Club helped to set up the race.
The idea to form the Daughter Project came after Wilbarger read the anti-trafficking book “Not for Sale” in the fall 2008, he said.
“My understanding of God is that he is shocked and offended by the way people are treated and trafficked. Obviously, these girls are not my daughters, but they are full human beings and they deserved to be protected and rescued and the given the opportunity to live,” Wilbarger said.
Soon after, the long-time math teacher, who currently works at Emmanuel Christian School, founded the Daughter Project after he found no such shelters to help care for and teach recovered victims of sex trafficking.
The house is licensed as of last December by the State of Ohio to host recovered girls from the sex trafficking industry. Usually, the girls are recovered from the FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force (Northwest Ohio Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force), Wilbarger said.
“Throughout the state, over the last two years, we have indicted about 30 people, and the majority of those were in the Toledo area, almost equally split between Toledo and Cleveland [for sex trafficking]. These are cases that come to us through a task force set up there between the FBI and Toledo Police, a variety and sheriffs and police. What we have seen largely is commercial sex trafficking. They are profoundly disturbing cases,” said Mike Tobin, spokesman for United States Attorney’s Office Northern District of Ohio.
Tobin says that organizations like the Daughter Project are vital in the battle against sex trafficking.
“When the criminal case ends, the real work for these women is just beginning. They need counseling, housing, clothing and more counseling. They may need substance abuse treatment; the list goes on and on. … Those issues don’t go away when the bad guy is locked up. It’s crucially important to have these nonprofits involved,” Tobin said.
Although the Daughter Project is a Christian organization, conversion to Christianity is not involved, Wilbarger said.
“We are not interested in coercing the girls or making them Christians. We believe that God created the girls, and they deserve a better life,” he said.
This is not the only awareness project that the Daughter Project has been involved with. For two years now, they have organized the “Free to Laugh” comedy fundraiser at the University of Toledo. At “Free to Laugh,” which was started by Pastor Brad Pellish, three family-friendly comedians put on a show.
Awareness and education are vital to the success of the Daughter Project, as sex trafficking is not just an inner-city problem, but a community problem, Billings said.
“When you educate people and they tell others, it just keeps growing,” Billings said.