Community feature: Rappelling event returns Downtown to end child sex-trafficking

Erica Thompson
Scott Arnold

If you're Downtown on Thursday and Friday, June 15 and 16, you may see people rappelling 19 stories down the PNC Plaza building as part of Gracehaven's second annual “Over the Edge to End Child Sex-Trafficking” fundraising event.

The cause is an uphill battle. “According to the Ohio Attorney General's Office … about 1,100 minors are being trafficked in Ohio at any given time,” said Scott Arnold, executive director for Central Ohio Youth for Christ (COYFC). An affiliate of COYFC since 2014, Gracehaven serves young victims of Central Ohio — numbering about 100 per year — by providing specialized residential and community-based, case-management services.

“The need has been around forever [but] the understanding and identification of the need is relatively young,” Arnold said.

He also explained that, in the past, girls engaging in prostitution were often criminalized.

“The reality is that young girls are bullied, coerced and manipulated into this and then held through various means into this life as a direction,” Arnold said. “So that awareness emerged only in the last 10 or 15 years.”

Gracehaven and The Daughter Project in Perrysburg, Ohio are the only two agencies in the state providing specialized residential services — amounting to 15 beds total — for over 1,000 victims.

“There is a huge need for resources to serve this population,” Arnold said.

“Over the Edge” participants — limited to 150 — are tasked with raising $1,000 each in donations, which are allocated to myriad services, from counseling sessions for survivors to intervention training for community professionals so they can identify victims. Funds will also go to a new mentoring program and prevention education in schools.

“There's a process called grooming that people use to draw unsuspecting young people into being trafficked,” Arnold said. “So we do prevention training to try to equip young people to identify the kinds of things that would cause them to get drug into this scourge.”

“Over the Edge” doesn't require previous rappelling experience, and Arnold said most participants are more interested in making a difference than gaining a quick adrenaline rush. “People are glad they did it and they're excited about the cause, and so it's kind of a little bit of terror mixed with enthusiasm,” he said.

Last year, the event raised $178,000. But the awareness the spectacle creates is even more valuable.

“The degree to which we create visibility to the need of human trafficking victims, especially minors, is even more important to us and, frankly, another golf tournament doesn't draw that kind of visibility,” Arnold said. “It's something that's unique and special in the Downtown area.”