SKOWHEGAN — When Morrigan Knox-McLeod was approached in March by someone she believed was a victim of sex trafficking, she did everything within her means to help.

Six months later, McLeod is contributing to a nationwide awareness project by filling cracks in local communities with red grains of sand, representative of the 40.3 million individuals who slip through the cracks each year.

“The first time I met her, I was at a local business,” McLeod said. “She’s someone that walks around the streets here and she was saying things that were alarming that a lot of other people just missed.”

As McLeod left the business, the woman followed her, asking to speak to her.

McLeod, who was hesitant at first because of the situation, learned about the abuse the woman had faced. The short conversation with the woman encouraged McLeod to reach out to local advocates she knew so she would be better prepared the next time she saw the woman.

 

To draw attention to human trafficking, red sand is poured Sunday into sidewalk cracks along Water Street in Skowhegan.

The two would see each other a week and a half later. This time, McLeod brought the woman to a living space in Norridgewock, where she provided food and medical care, and offered the woman a ride to the police station to talk with officers about her being a victim of sex trafficking.

“She fled (once she decided against pressing charges), and, after a short interaction with police, I was pretty much told to go home and mind my own business,” McLeod said.

“They didn’t know why I had helped her. It could be any of us. It could be my sister, a friend, a friend’s child, and that was my answer. I spoke with some other people and decided to report it to the sex trafficking hotline, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.”

Later in June, McLeod was contacted by a friend, Margaret O’Connell, who attended Pride Portland! and saw a demonstration of the Red Sand Project, an expressive art project created by Molly Gochman, a New York City-based artist, that uses sidewalk cracks to start the conversation about human trafficking and exploitation.

“In my 20s, I was at a rest stop in New Hampshire and my cousin and I were approached by someone and we thought we were in a potential (trafficking) situation,” McLeod said. “We were able to get away, but it’s always stuck with me.”

The Red Sand Project uses sidewalks and other similar surfaces to create a platform to further the conversation about the vulnerabilities that can lead to human trafficking and exploitation. According to the Project, about 40.3 million individuals of all ages live in slavery, either through forced marriages, forced labor or forced sexual exploitation.

Red sand is poured Sunday into sidewalk cracks along Water Street in Skowhegan to draw attention to human trafficking.

McLeod’s first demonstration took place Friday morning at Marti Stevens Learning Center, where she spoke to about 25 students and educators about the vulnerabilities of youth, especially those at high risk.

The project was well-received by students, many asking questions and knowing of different ways people are victimized through trafficking.

“I also encourage people to tell somebody,” McLeod said. “If they tell somebody once and they don’t seem to hear, tell somebody else. It might take a lot to tell, but there are people that survive, too. We try to be preventative. Keep telling until someone hears you.”

On Sunday, McLeod and a small group spread 25 pounds of red sand around Water Street as cars and motorcycles passed by, honking in support. Signs were hung by red yarn near the sidewalks, describing what the sand represents and how to seek help.

“For me, it was not knowing the information until (McLeod) handed me the first pamphlet,” said Brooke Gingerella, a participant from Sidney. “I was amazed how big of a problem this is in Maine. When she decided to take this on, I wanted to support her and support Red Sand Project because the awareness just isn’t out there.

“Not a lot of people around here know what’s going on. I have opened their eyes to what this project is, and they have been just as shocked as I have. Having a daughter of my own and seeing the numbers, it could have been her. You grow up thinking you’re safe because we’re out in the country, but when you look at the numbers, we’re really not safe.”

Gingerella said she hopes to continue to use her voice and activism to raise awareness in her community through conversations similar to the one she had when McLeod brought the issue to her attention.

“I believe that all human beings have worth and all people should find compassion in their community and justice from the system,” said Katherine Wilder, a member of the Maine School Administrative District 54 board of directors.

“We don’t think of trafficking as a rural issue. We think of it as something that only happens in big cities. There are all kinds of disadvantaged populations, not just young girls who get sucked into the streets. There are poor people, homeless people, illegal people, elderly people and those that have been failed by the health care system.”

McLeod said she hopes to spread this project throughout Maine.

Morrigan Knox-McLeod waves to bikers Sunday on Water Street during the red sand event in Skowhegan. The sand  was poured into cracks on a sidewalk to draw attention to human trafficking.

“This is a great way for me to speak in the community without using my voice,” McLeod said. “I know that this woman had told local businesses what was going on and no one helped.

“For me, this was a way to do that. I have since seen her in the neighborhood, and I hope that she walks by and sees this. I told her I would never forget her, and I think this is a way to speak out and have her know that I am still thinking about her.”

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.