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5K for Freedom; run raises funds for victims of sexual exploitation

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People might imagine running from zombies and werewolves this Halloween, but some will take time out of their morning to run for the Aruna Project in the name of freeing victims from brothels in South Asia this October.

The Ohio State University is hosting the Aruna Project 5K for Their Freedom on Saturday for the first time.

The Aruna Project is a Cincinnati-based non-profit organization, whose goal is to raise awareness and combat commercial sexual exploitation by raising funds to give the enslaved the “choice of freedom,” according to the organization’s website.

All race proceeds go toward the funding of outreach programs that seek to help those in brothel systems primarily in South Asia.

Kory Martin, the Columbus volunteer 5K host, said ultimately, the Aruna Project wants “to bring and sustain freedom to those exploited in the brothel system through employment marked by holistic care.”

“When a girl is rescued, they enter a restoration program and are then employed, so they can earn a sustainable living. This is huge because the retention rate of those that re-enter trafficking is staggering,” Martin said. “Having something to replace the income they receive from the brothel, and to be cared for, has really allowed the Aruna Project to flourish in the area that they are focused on.”

The women hand make merchandise for Aruna, which is then sold at races, such as the shirts that runners wear during future 5K runs, each with a freed woman’s name across the front.

According to the International Labor Organization website, 4.5 million people are victims of forced sexual exploitation. Martin said the Aruna Project estimates 15,000 workers in one of the largest red light districts in South Asia.

Abby Kohlbacher, a third-year in psychology who grew up in China, said she is going to participate in the 5K run. While she lived in China, Kohlbacher said she lived on a block with 12 brothels nearby.

“I went to talk to some of the women in the shops once, and some of them were my brother’s age. It’s just incredibly sad,” Kohlbacher said. “I think OSU and Columbus should help because slavery is not OK. We cannot ignore the fact that people are getting trafficked because it’s inconvenient.”

Martin said that the OSU community has been helpful in race preparations, citing strong support from the Christian student organization RealLife, which has been promoting the race in the OSU community.

Former RealLife member and a fourth-year in social work Margie Crandall works with the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition, and she said she is also going to participate in the upcoming Aruna 5K run.

“I do think that the Aruna run will bring awareness,” Crandall said. “The key is not the run in and of itself, but how well the run is publicized before it happens.”

Martin and others involved in the Aruna Project are hoping for a big turnout at the Columbus race on Halloween, though Martin mentioned people can donate money on the Aruna Project website if they are unable to participate.

Previous races took place in cities such as Pittsburgh, New York and Madison, Wisconsin.

The race will run from the Oval to Woody Hayes Drive and will cost $20. Registration starts at 7:30 a.m., and the race is set to begin at 9:30 a.m.


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