Midstate activists raise awareness of law to help sex traffic victims

alopez@macon.comJanuary 10, 2014 

Mayor Robert Reichert is scheduled to sign a proclamation Saturday that designates the day as Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Macon-Bibb County.

After the proclamation signing at the Government Center on Poplar Street, volunteers with the Middle Georgia Alliance to End Regional Trafficking and the Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia will distribute notices to area businesses informing them of a recently passed state law meant to help human trafficking victims.

Human trafficking involves the use of force or fraud to keep someone against their will for their labor, services or commercial sex acts.

Anyone induced into performing commercial sex acts as a minor also is a victim of trafficking.

Georgia House Bill 141, signed into law last May, requires certain businesses to post notices alerting people to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. Under the law, businesses that fail to post the notice after being asked to comply are subject to a misdemeanor criminal charge and a fine of $500.

Businesses must display the hotline information in public restrooms and at least one other conspicuous location.

Adult entertainment establishments, bars, airports, bus and train stations, hospitals, hotels and businesses that offer massage services but do not employ massage therapists are all subject to the law.

Dozens of massage parlors operated in Macon in the last decade, which law enforcement agencies often targeted in anti-prostitution efforts. Activists against human trafficking suggested some women at those places were being held against their will.

In 2010, the Macon City Council passed an ordinance that made it harder for massage parlors to operate, and as a result there are fewer of them today, but that doesn’t mean human trafficking in the area has stopped.

“The model for trafficking in Middle Georgia has shifted from one involving primarily massage parlors to one involving Internet-based trafficking where the orders are placed online, and the victims are trafficked at local hotels,” said District Attorney David Cooke.

Cooke has been prosecuting sex trafficking crimes since 2001. Gov. Nathan Deal named him to his anti-sex-trafficking task force in 2011.

“There are hundreds of girls that are sexually trafficked in Georgia every month,” Cooke said.

Volunteers mobilized to hit hotels

Hotels are targeted for Saturday’s notice distribution event.

“Hoteliers are really in a unique position to be able to identify child sex trafficking,” said Christine Watson, board chairwoman for the Middle Georgia Alliance to End Regional Trafficking.

At least 85 people have signed up to distribute notices at area hotels, Watson said.

Jennifer Fry, a teacher at the Houston County Crossroads Center, signed up online and promised to invite friends.

Fry said she is doing her part to help spread awareness of the human trafficking hotline, so victims can get the help they need.

The hotline identified 85 cases of potential trafficking in Georgia in the first six months of 2013, according to a Human Trafficking Resource Center state report. While the majority of those cases were classified as sex trafficking (67), some cases of labor trafficking (12) also were identified.

Miami law enforcement agencies arrested three people Monday on sex trafficking and other charges, alleging they forced a 13-year-old girl into stripping and prostitution. The girl ran away from home in December with two other 15-year-olds, according to The Miami Herald.

The girls were picked up by a man they met while staying in a hotel.

“The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14,” said Cooke, who is speaking at Saturday’s proclamation signing event. “The average life expectancy once a victim becomes a prostitute is seven years. The most common cause of death is homicide.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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