Lighting the way for women’s empowerment

Sacred Heart students plan vigil for victims of abuse, sex trafficking on March 20


With Women’s History Month coming to a close, seven young women at Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls’ high school in Hempstead, were looking to write their own chapter as they prepared to lead a candlelight vigil in memory of female victims of domestic and sexual abuse on Thursday.

Sacred Heart seniors Samantha Levano, 16, Nicole Cody, 16, Mia Campbell, 17, and juniors Kayla Walczyk, 17, Sarah Tanchuck, 17, Olayemi Akingboye, 16, and Cassidy Pinder, 16, who started a school campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking late last year, planned to hold a ceremony at 3 p.m. in the school’s theater, featuring speakers such as FBI Victim Specialist Laura Riso, who was set to talk about her work with victims of domestic violence. Sacred Heart sophomore Sarah Nicholson prepared a PowerPoint presentation on the International Violence Against Women Act, legislation intended to ensure that American foreign policy focuses on the protection of women across the globe. The vigil was scheduled for 4 p.m. on the Sacred Heart lawn along Cathedral Avenue.

After attending a student summit last November titled Not on Our Turf: Students for a Traffick Free Super Bowl, which detailed the growing prostitution problem each Super Bowl weekend, the girls felt compelled to launch a number of initiatives on campus to inform other young women about sex trafficking around the world and the importance of female autonomy.

“A lot of girls in our school kind of view human trafficking as a far-off issue that occurs in impoverished, third-world countries, and they feel really isolated from it,” Walczyk said. “I think what we’ve done this year with the campaign has kind of opened people’s minds and their hearts to the fact that the bulk of sex trafficking occurs in our age group, and across the United States, and it’s not just in these far-away places.”

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