JEFFERSON — Despite the afternoon rain on Saturday, Sept. 12, members of the community met at Jefferson United Methodist Church to march and “be the voice” for children who are victims of sex crimes.
The Ashe County “Save Our Children” march began at 3 p.m., and participants wore brightly colored clothing and held signs containing Bible verses and statistics while en route to Ashe County Courthouse. Some participants pulled wagons filled with children’s shoes and brief signs describing circumstances some children experienced.
The purpose of the march was to “walk a mile” in the shoes of victims and survivors of child trafficking and to raise awareness for those who do not have a voice or suffer in silence.
Upon arriving at the courthouse, those in attendance placed the shoes from the wagons onto the courthouse steps along with signs that fit the appearance and size of the shoes.
One pair of small sandals was coupled with a sign that read “10 year old girl raped and killed at family member’s wedding” while a pair of boy’s running shoes rested beside a sign reading “13 year old boy sexually assaulted by 31 year old aunt”.
The group then observed a moment of silence for all victims, and members of the group had an opportunity to share their experience with the crowd if they were comfortable doing so. Hearing some of the experiences shared evoked emotion and brought tears to the eyes of several in attendance.
The organizers of the march on Sept. 12 were Allison Shoemake, Mandy Rash and Chelsey Sullivan.
Shoemake said a large part of her motivation for planning the march was due to her previous experience working with kids in group home situations. She said she has personally seen the “underbelly” of the system and how people who sexually assault minors continue to walk free.
According to Shoemake, she also worked with people who were fired for having inappropriate relationships with the kids living in group homes. While in her position, she also worked with several children who came out of sex slavery and saw firsthand how trauma changed their lives forever.
Rash spoke about the importance of protecting each other’s children and realizing that child trafficking is real and it is close to home.
Both Shoemake and Rash feel strongly about the community coming together to help put an end to child trafficking.
“It takes a village and this is our village,” Shoemake said.
Prior to the march, Rash said she hopes the event inspires people to speak up in the future.
Businesses and organizations that helped make the march possible were Parker Tie, Rash Auto Sales and Cottage Treasures, Jefferson Police Department, West Jefferson Police Department and Jefferson United Methodist Church. Parker Tie donated paint sticks for participants to attach to signs that were used during the march. The West Jefferson Police Department helped barricade traffic to allow participants to safely cross the intersection in Jefferson on the route to the courthouse and Jefferson United Methodist Church provided their lot for parking.
The organizers also extended their gratitude to Bohemia in West Jefferson for allowing them to meet and complete the planning process and to officer Kevin Richardson of Jefferson Police Department for helping with last-minute staging changes.
Plans are in the works to hold future marches and a vigil for victims in the near future. They also hope to hold seminars to bring awareness and teach people how to spot and properly report suspicious behavior.
Those who are interested in following this movement are encouraged to join the Facebook group #SaveOurChildren Ashe County, NC.