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RI Organization Mobilizes Against Human Trafficking

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Founded in 2009 by Pasco and Mary Ann Manzo, Run for Freedom is an organization that raises awareness about human trafficking, sex slavery, and forced or coerced prostitution in America. The Manzos are well known in North Providence, where they established the North Providence Assembly of God in 1982 and Pasco served as Senior Pastor for 25 years. Though they call Florida home today, the couple often find themselves in the Ocean State, working with Run For Freedom’s Rhode Island Chapter President, Jen Tufano, who spoke with GoLocalProv.com on this National Human Trafficking Awareness Day about the epidemic of human trafficking right here in our home state.

America’s Youth Under Siege

“I always had a heart for broken people, especially women,” she says. “When Pasco and Mary Ann told me they were doing this, it was just a natural fit.” Tufano says human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, eclipsed only by illegal drugs and arms smuggling. Victims are forced into a life of prostitution, slavery, pornography or sexual exploitation with children and teenagers being the traffickers' main target. Tufano spoke to us from a Run for Freedom kiosk set up at Providence Place Mall that is bringing awareness of the problem to local Rhode Islanders. The location is a strategic one, as Tufano explains the malls of America are popular targets for traffickers. “Any place where young people gather and gather unsupervised,” she warns, are hotbeds of activity. “As much as they don’t want to believe it’s happening right here, it’s happening right here in Rhode Island.”

Rhode Island’s Role

While many people tend to think of human trafficking as a problem in third world countries, it's actually unfolding everyday in the US. Estimates say as many as 300,000 American children

become victim to the crime each year. With a nearly three-decade long loophole in Rhode Island state law that protected indoor prostitution, the state had been one of the more popular destinations for sex workers. In fact, the state was the only domestic locale outside of specific counties in Nevada where indoor prostitution was protected under the law. In November 2009, Gov. Carcieri signed a law banning indoor prostitution, allowing the state to crack down on brothels, “spas” where workers were suspected of performing sex acts, and other suspected sex worker locations. Prior to the change in the law, Tufano described Rhode Island as "a gateway" that perpetuated the crime. 

Making a Difference at Home

Run for Freedom, now seven national chapters strong, raises awareness through “Dinner and a Movie,” night, where they show a film on how human trafficking takes place and the plight

of victims, through sales of its Orange Campaign products (orange is the signature color of the cause) 5K run/walk events, an annual banquet and more initiatives. The organization has opened a Dream Home in Florida, a safe haven for girls who are victims of human trafficking, and have intentions of opening their second home in Rhode Island or the Southern New England region in the future. To get involved and learn more visit www.runforfreedom.net

*Run for Freedom representatives will be at the Warwick Mall today in front of the JC Penney department store raising awareness and selling Orange Campaign products to benefit the non-profit organization. 

Pictured top right, Run for Freedom founders Pasco and Mary Ann Manzo; middle right, Run for Freedom member Sonya Poydras, RI Chapter Treasurer Susan Amado and RI Chapter President Jen Tufanor

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