The ink was barely dry on 18-year-old Mariah Roger’s new tattoo Monday, which had been a rush job to get it done in time for Thursday’s protest. The black letters #STC on her still pink wrist are more than just a decorative embellishment or sign of teenage rebellion. They stand for the Save the Children movement of which she’s passionate.
She held her wrist up proudly.
“I want everybody I shake hands with to see it and ask me what it’s about,” she said. “And I’ll tell them.”
Sitting at a table at The Local Monday afternoon, Mariah gesticulated with both hands in between bites of her sandwich as she talked about the dozens of people in her life, both friends and family, who have lived through sexual violence and assault. Several girls she knew from Campbell County High School, for example, including one of her close friends who was raped and briefly moved in with their family.
“It weighs heavy on my heart,” she said, to the point, where, last year as a high schooler, she’d gone to her principal to ask if she could hang up posters advertising an app her dad was going to make for her to provide an anonymous reporting service for kids who weren’t sure what else to do.
Her principal had denied the request, she said, pointing out that the school already had the Hope Squad, a group for just that purpose.
In her mind, it’s not enough. Too many kids don’t feel comfortable talking about it, she said, but for whatever reasons, they feel comfortable talking to her.
That’s just fine, she said, and as such, she wants to actually do something about the violence, instead of just sitting around raging about an otherwise elusive cause.
The first step takes place later this afternoon in a planned march from 4 to 6 p.m. in front of Walgreens, at the corner of Boxelder and HWY 59, to honor World Day Against Human Trafficking.
She and her mother Tami, who was sharing a sandwich beside her daughter at the table, scurried to organize the march after finding out about it just last week.
“I didn’t think we would have time to throw anything together,” Tami said, “but I knew we needed to get our act together and try.”
So far, it seems to be catching on with more than 50 people already confirming they plan to be there to show their support. Later today, Tami and her daughter are going to make T-Shirts to wear to the event, decrying the escalating problem of both human trafficking and sexual abuse and assault.
A big part of the problem, the duo said, is the lenient sentencing surrounding rape and sex crimes. They point to a recent trial of a Gillette man accused of several counts of sexual abuse of minors for which he received a year of unsupervised probabtion. This has sparked outrage by many who in recent weeks have also held protests decrying the lenience in sentencing.
People arrested on drug charges get harsher punishments, Tami noted.
“It’s not fair,” she said simply.
And that’s just the cases that make it to court, Mariah added. She knows many teens who have been raped – in some cases by a classmate – but are too scared or embarrassed to report it.
Mariah wants to be their voice.
“I want to stand up and speak for those who can’t,” she said. “And I want people to know about it and provide opportunities for kids and victims to get help.”
Growing problem in country, at home
The Save the Children’s Facebook page is a grim reminder of the reality of sexual abuse. Part of the grassroots group’s goal is to provide a forum for reporting and support as well as raising awareness of the escalating problem throughout the country and world.
Some of the news stories about sexual assault and abuse are almost too vile to digest, such as the Fox News story on July 22 about a Montana man, who got a one-year sentence for his 60 child sex crimes. Or the Arizona man who was arrested for videotaping his sex acts with an infant. Other stories include teachers abusing students and a Washington woman caught on camera raping two young boys – both under the age of 10.
“It weighs heavy on my heart,” Mariah repeated, a mantra that resonates in her actions and words, and a fierceness also mirrored by the tattoo on her other arm of a black bear lifting his head with bared teeth under a jagged mountain.
The two rattled off a long list of other stories garnered from extensive reading, documentaries and examples of the many cases of abuse that dominate headlines. Both admit it has become an obsessive passion in their lives, which is why they can no longer stay silent. Along with tonight’s protest, they plan to approach state legislators about changing laws and sentencing protocols as well as providing an outlet for survivors to come forward and share their stories.
“It sucks to live with that,” Mariah said, shaking her head with clenched fists. “To feel like you can’t tell anyone about this big scary thing. They need a voice.”
Human trafficking, a modern form of slavery in which children or adults are forced into sexual acts or labor, is a growing problem both in the United States and Wyoming. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there have been 348 total cases in the state since 2007, with 12 of those reported last year. Of these cases, most involved girls under 11.