There are people – both children and adults – who are disappearing from the streets of Westmoreland County. Some are eventually found, but many are never seen again. They are victims of human trafficking.
It’s these people that the Blackburn Center in Greensburg and a variety of other county organizations want to draw attention to through the Red Sand Project, which symbolizes victims who have “fallen through the cracks” and are unnoticed by the system and the community.
The project was created by artist Molly Gochman and uses red sand placed in the cracks of sidewalks to raise awareness to what equates to “modern-day slavery.” The grains of sand represent the millions of men, women, and children, both domestic and foreign, in slavery today. They are exploited daily for commercial sex or forced labor, according to signs erected by the Blackburn Center to educate the public.
“The Red Sand Project provides an opportunity for county residents to stand together,” said Commissioner Gina Cerilli, a member of the Westmoreland County Human Trafficking Task Force started in 2017.
Sand has already been installed on the grounds of the Westmoreland County Courthouse, and soon will be completed at Twin Lakes Park Extension, Excela Westmoreland, Latrobe and Frick Hospital in Mount Pleasant in the coming weeks.
Other groups supporting and working collaboratively to promote the Red Sand Project include the task force, Seton Hill University, the Sisters of Charity, the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau, Westmoreland Casemanagement and Supports Inc., CASA of Westmoreland Inc., community members, local college and high school students, and the commissioners.
“Human trafficking is a heinous crime that enslaves an average of 21 million people annually worldwide,” said Cerilli. “The Red Sand Project’s goal is to bring awareness to the Westmoreland County community that will spread throughout Western Pennsylvania, and eventually end this crime that affects an average of 21 million people worldwide.”
GOAL Magazine is also planning a human trafficking symposium on human trafficking on Nov. 6 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. The free educational symposium will provide information on the issue that is impacting local communities every day.