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'I want justice for everybody': Protestors raise awareness about child sexual abuse at Ardmore's Central Park

Sierra Rains
The Daily Ardmoreite
A group of around 30 people gathered at Ardmore's Central Park on Friday to protest against the exploitation of children and sexual abuse of children.

“I know them, they would never do that” or “Get over it” are some of the phrases 26-year-old Ashley Alford says she and other survivors of sexual abuse have heard all too often. 

Amid a rising national concern regarding child sex trafficking, exploitation and sexual abuse, many have began to voice their concerns — adopting the phrase “Save the children.” On Friday, Aug. 7, Alford led a protest at Central Park in Ardmore to raise awareness about the issue, seek justice for victims and ask for tougher punishments for sex offenders and child abusers. 

Though a smaller group of around 30 people, their voices were loud and powerful. “For the ones who have died from sexual abuse and sexual trauma — I want it to be out in the open. I want justice for everybody,” Alford said. 

Alford was inspired to organize the protest following several current events, but also has a deep, personal investment in the cause. At the age of three, Alford said she was molested. The abuse continued for several years and eventually escalated into rape. 

Ashley Alford holds up a sign during the protest she organized at Ardmore's Central Park Friday evening.

To this day Alford said she is scared of fish because she associates them with an early memory of abuse where she was sitting on the lap of her abuser and watching a video about fish. 

“I am living proof that sexual predators cause trauma and mental health illness,” Alford said. “You have a photographic memory ingrained into your head of what they did to you.” 

Victims can relive the trauma at any time and trauma can often affect future relationships, Alford said. “We learn no trust, we learn to never know a good touch,” she said. While in high school, Alford said she conceived a child after being date raped by two older men and dropped out of school. 

“I remember people calling me all these horrible things at school and I had to drop out because no one listened. I lost my education,” Alford said. “Even though I spoke out, they all were free.”

Protestors join together on the stage at Ardmore's Central Park to display their signs.

According to a 2019 report from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, only 17.4% of reported rapes in Oklahoma were cleared by arrest. 

A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Survey found that about one in three women have been the victim of sexual violence. Though the number of women reporting sexual assaults in Oklahoma is on the rise, national studies show that sexual assault is still vastly unreported due to victims fearing that authorities won’t believe them or threats from their abusers. 

Alford acknowledged that many victims live in silence due to these fears. As she recalled some of the things she was told such as “No one will believe you” or “You deserved that,” another woman yelled “Me too!” from the crowd. 

Individuals hold up signs while protesting against child exploitation and sexual abuse at Ardmore's Central Park on Friday.

Alford said her experiences have empowered her to take a stand and be the voice for other victims. Experts encourage parents to educate their children on what is okay and what is not okay when it comes to their bodies, and to make them feel comfortable about confiding in an adult. Images on social media and the internet can also desensitize children to sexual abuse. 

If you believe a child is being abused or exploited, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com, or your local law enforcement. If you or someone you know experiences domestic violence or sexual assault, The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma offers free services, including counseling and crisis services. The 24 hour Crisis Hotline number is (580) 226-6424. 

Alford said she plans to hold more protests in the future and a similar protest against child sex trafficking is expected to be held in Oklahoma City on Aug. 22. 

“You can’t silence me, not anymore,” Alford said. “I’m here to stand up against the elite. I’m here to take a stand and take our voice back. I am a survivor, you will never silence me.” 

Individuals hold up signs while protesting against child exploitation and child sexual abuse at Ardmore's Central Park on Friday.