MG Alert Continues Fighting Against Human Trafficking

By Vanessa Alva

A 23-year-old was brought to Macon under the impression that she would be working on a pornography film.

“Instead, she was tricked into coming and sold in hotels around Macon. It impacted me, just seeing how normal she is and how easily she was tricked,” said MG Alert director Christine Watson, who was awoken in the middle of the night to transport the rescued sex trafficking victim.

Watson was pushed to start working against human trafficking after learning that this was a bigger problem than most people expect and it can happen anywhere.

This is not something most people would imagine happening in Macon. However, raids between 2008 and 2010 at area massage parlors uncovered underground prostitution, possibly linked to sex trafficking.

“Typically, these are places where you see a hybrid form of labor. First of all, women were involved in full on prostitution at all these places or most of them anyway,” said Andrew Silver, a Mercer University professor and anti-human trafficking advocate. “Secondly, we know that nationally these are places where you see trafficking victims working alongside of voluntary sex workers.”

In 2010, Macon began requiring massage parlors to have state-licensed masseuses, according to GPB Macon. Before this local law came into place, there was not a set rule on what regulations Macon’s local government could enforce on massage parlors. Silver said it is was common to see billboards promoting massage parlors alluding to “sexual” favors.

Silver started working to fight against human trafficking after he taught a class which investigated human trafficking as a class project.

“Throughout other places in Georgia, and other major cities, there were ordinances on the books to make sure that whoever was setting up a massage parlor was a licensed masseuse, and whoever worked for them, were licensed and trained masseuses,” Silver said. “What we found in Macon was that there was nothing on the books at all. It was kind of a wild west of these places.

“They could set up a sex shop here. There was no government agency, no government presence [and] no government inspections,” he said.

As a result, anti-human trafficking advocates like Silver worked for about three years to make stricter laws requiring massage parlors to be licensed and have licensed employees.

In 2008, police vice units raided seven massage parlors and arrested people in three of those parlors, according to the Macon Telegraph. Although this was positive, Silver said anti-human trafficking agencies still had to work to improve the way police officials and the media reports these raids.

As a result of these massage parlor outbreaks, organizations like MG Alert were created. MG Alert is a local organization dedicated to ending human trafficking. Silver is the former MG Alert director and says it’s important to have one main organization that fights human trafficking.

“It concerns me when we have different start-up groups that are uncoordinated trying to do good. I think it’s much better to have one coordinated movement,” Silver said. “It is much better for people to be in conversation across organizations. MG Alert was set up to do that.”

MG Alert covers all of middle Georgia and works alongside local and state anti-human trafficking organizations. Some of these partners include Out of Darkness, Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia and Mercer’s Traffick Jam.

MG Alert connects victims to to Out of Darkness. This organization is an Atlanta based anti-human trafficking ministry whose missions is to reach out to victims, rescue them and help them deal with the aftermath of their experiences, according to their website’s mission statement.

MG Alert places victims in Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia to provide them with shelter.

“It has beds now for that reason. The state is working with them on providing resources to these child victims of sex trafficking,” Watson said.

They are also communicating with Mercer’s Traffick Jam, which was founded by Stetson School of Business professor Tammy Crutchfield. Mercer students visit local Macon schools and educate them on how to recognize human trafficking, how to protect themselves from being trafficked and what they can do to stop it.

“We continue to know what each other is doing so that all of the gaps can be covered by us,” Watson said.