When Kristen Guerrieri and Cortina Nystad first put on red dresses last summer to jog at rush hour in downtown Algonquin, they keenly felt the stares and honks of people driving by.
"I was mortified, people were paying attention because of how I looked," said Guerrieri, 32, of Algonquin.
Nystad, 35, agreed. "It's kind of a funny feeling when you're on Route 62 and you know every single car is slowing down to see what you're doing," she said.
But getting attention -- however awkward it may feel -- is exactly what they want, they said, as the red dresses symbolize the fight against child sex trafficking. Nystad and Guerrieri explained they were inspired to wear them after a story about Cambodian girls who wore red dresses as they were being sold to the highest bidder in a brothel.
Now, the two women, helped by several of Guerrieri's relatives including her husband, Michael, are organizing The Red Run 5K Run/Walk in Algonquin on Aug. 11, whose proceeds will benefit Anne's House, a trauma-based residential facility for victims of sex trafficking in the Chicago area, and Love146, an organization that provides prevention and aftercare solutions internationally. Although wearing red dresses is not mandatory, they are encouraging everyone to wear red.
People may think that child trafficking only takes places in faraway countries, but it goes on all around us, said Guerrieri, who volunteers at Anne's House, which is run by The Salvation Army's Promise program.
"We have to make it absolutely clear this is happening in our backyard," she said. "It's not only overseas, it's not only in the inner city -- it's in the suburbs, it's everywhere. People need to be aware of it."
Nystad agreed. "People stop us and ask what we're doing, and they are shocked to find out that child sex trafficking is going on right under our noses," she said.
A spokesman for The Salvation Army's Promise program said all the proceeds generated by The Red Run will go directly toward helping girls who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, and will help ensure that Anne's House remains open long term.
Statistics compiled by the University of Illinois at Chicago show that in 2011 there were 93 cases -- 38 of them confirmed -- that referenced potential human trafficking situations in Illinois to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
Guerrieri said she's always been aware of the issue through reading and research. Last year, she participated in the "Tread on Trafficking" fundraiser for Love 146 with a goal of running 146 miles in an 8-week period. "That's when the idea of running in a red dress first came to me," she said.
Guerrieri bought her red dress for $4 at Sears, while Nystad's belonged to a friend who wore it for prom. Neither is great for running, but at least Guerrieri's is made of a stretchy, breathable material. Nystad's dress, on the other hand, is unforgiving.
"Running in the hot summer months with the humidity is unbearable, but we're running for an amazing cause," Nystad said. "These little girls in red dresses were put on a menu, and people were selling their virginity. This is nothing -- bearing an hour of heat is nothing."
Guerrieri said people are reacting very positively to plans for The Red Run, which organizers want to turn into an annual event. Long-term plans include having sex trafficking curriculums in middle and high schools, Nystad said. "The interest is absolutely amazing, people are jumping on board. It's definitely good confirmation that we're not crazy," Guerrieri said.
For more information or to register for the event visit theredrun.org. Registration is $25 in advance or $35 the day of the event. For more information about sponsorship opportunities, contact Kristen Guerrieri at firstname.lastname@example.org.