Traffick Jam, a non-profit, student-run organization at Mercer that is apart of the service learning program aims to bring the reality of sex trafficking in Macon to light.
“One of the biggest issues is a lot of people don’t know that sex trafficking is an issue to begin with,” said Zoe Haynes, a business marketing major and member of the public relations team for Traffick Jam.
Tammy Crutchfield is a marketing professor at Mercer and the faculty advisor for Traffick Jam. She has helped lead research into sex trafficking, and used what she has learned to help start a campaign to combat human trafficking.
According to what they have found based on their anonymous survey of about 1,500 students, one in six adolescents from high schools they visited either know of someone who has been a victim of sex trafficking or have experienced it themselves.
The survey asked questions such as: “A parent or guardian has talked to me about the dangers of sex trafficking,” and “I personally know someone who has been forced to sell themselves for sex.” Students would respond to these questions on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the equivalent of strongly disagreeing and 5, strongly agreeing.
When asked if they would know what to do if they found out someone they knew was being sold for sexual purposes, 32 percent of the students responded “strongly agree.”
“[Almost] every single one of the schools has had at least one episode of known sex trafficking,” Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield said that three of the four schools they talked to, including Westside High School, Howard High School, Southwest Magnet High School and Northeast Health Science Magnet High School, explicitly told them of at least one incident they had involving sex trafficking with one of their students.
“Teenagers are very vulnerable,” Crutchfield said. “They want to feel like they are needed, like they are loved, like they are part of a group or a family, so I think that they are prime targets for this.”
Based on what she’s discovered in her time working with Traffick Jam, Crutchfield said the punishments for offenders, even when they are prosecuted, are often not enough of a deterrent.
“Those who are trafficking our youth get little or no sentencing for trafficking,” Crutchfield said. “They may get a few months. They may get 2 or 3 years. But they are really taking the lives of these young people and destroying their lives, and nothing happens.”
Macon’s relative proximity to the city of Atlanta leaves it a vulnerable hot spot for sex trafficking.
“Macon being in the center of Georgia is a sort of hub for a lot of things: drugs, prostitution, and sex trafficking,” said Lindsey Sherrod, a project manager of Traffick Jam.
Sex trafficking is not an exclusive trait of Atlanta or Macon, but a problem for large urban centers everywhere. For the people of Traffick Jam, it is important they don’t condemn the city, but instead condemn the fact that this issue has been allowed to stay underground for so long.
Zoey Haynes is a member of the public relations teams for Traffick Jam and said her main concern is bringing awareness to Macon residents about how big a problem sex trafficking is.
“[We want] to shed light on the issue and not darken the city,” Haynes said.
Haynes said she hopes Traffick Jam can serve as a bridge between Mercer and the Macon community.
Even though the organization has found in their research that many students in Macon have suffered from sex trafficking, Macon teens don’t know much about the matter.
“A lot of kids don’t know what sex trafficking is,” Haynes said. “They don’t know that they are being sex trafficked.”
Many people are simply not educated enough about the issue to know what it is, even when it affects them directly.
That’s why the 85 volunteers involved in Traffick Jam have taken the time to visit local high schools and educate students about human trafficking.
Traffick Jam defines sex trafficking as forcing anyone to perform sexual acts such as pornography, stripping, and prostitution for money. When minors are involved it can be defined as sex trafficking even when violence is not involved.
Tyler Burch is a student who works for the content team at Traffick Jam. They are responsible for creating and approving any content that goes on their website and on their social media pages.
“We’re looking to expand Traffick Jam not only in Middle Georgia, but to all of Georgia and eventually create a national brand,” Burch said.
Education is the first step, but Crutchfield said her ultimate goal is to bring the entire Mercer community together to tackle this difficult issue that is plaguing Macon.
“I think that each discipline at Mercer has a unique knowledge base and expertise to contribute to the solution,” Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield said that ever since she helped form the organization in 2014, she has gotten encouragement from many high ranking city officials including law enforcement and Macon Mayor Robert Reichert.
It will not be a quick process to resolving the complex issue of human trafficking. Much of it stems from poverty and a situation of desperation.
“Young people are drawn into it because for some they have very difficult lives at home,” Crutchfield said. “Some resort to selling themselves for food or for housing. It’s a really quick way to solve your problems.”
Crutchfield had a very grim term for this kind of sex trafficking. She called it “survival sex.”
The organization wishes to create trust between them and the community. Not just a trust with the victims but with other organizations that Crutchfield said she believes can serve as a means of tackling this problem.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunities to partner with these other organizations to provide these long term solutions to students,” Crutchfield said.
Traffick Jam is starting a donation drive that will culminate in a celebration event on March 28 at the Mercer V. Georgia Tech baseball game.
For more information on Traffick Jam and what they do, like their Facebook and follow them on Instagram @traffickjam.georgia.