Tammy Crutchfield, a professor of marketing at Mercer University who lives in Warner Robins, talks about how folks in Middle Georgia can get involved in World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
Q: The U.N. recognizes July 30 as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, a fight you’re involved with locally — how did you get involved?
A: My knowledge started in 2011 just watching a TV report, the story of two young girls about my daughters’ age. It wasn’t in some far-off land or New York or L.A. — it was a town like ours. They were taken and prostituted at truck stops. It rocked my world. They had just been walking to Wendy’s.
Q: Where did that lead? And how did the story end?
A: Fortunately, a trucker saw one of them and knew she had to be too young. He called police and that led to them raiding a house to get others. There’s a great group now called Truckers Against Trafficking that helps truckers be aware and know how to help.
Q: Your next steps?
A: I became impassioned to understand trafficking and educated myself. I looked online and found national and international groups and the few people and groups locally who were involved at the time. I learned it wasn’t just about abduction but the many deceptions to prey on girls, women and boys, too.
Q: What were some groups?
A: Locally, groups like MG-ALERT and Out of Darkness. Nationally and internationally, groups like A21 and Shared Hope and International Justice Mission. There are many anyone can find. A connection with Shared Hope led to what I’m doing now.
Q: How so?
A: My husband and I used to own Moe’s Southwest Grill in Warner Robins, but sold it years ago. We had money to tithe from the profits and gave some to Shared Hope International. Months later I got a call from them saying the founder, Linda Smith, wanted to meet with me. I told them, hey, we’re not rich, that was a onetime gift, but she still wanted to meet.
A: She talked about a film they were releasing called “Chosen.” I told her I was a marketing professor at Mercer University and wondered if my students could make a project of marketing it locally. But I told her we’d need funds. She said sure.
Q: That led to your Traffick Jam project? (www.traffickjamgeorgia.com)
A: When students did marketing research and showed the movie to young people, they came back saying showing the movie was great but not sufficient. Now this is the part I love: they asked me if they could create their own brand to work to help young people understand and learn to protect themselves and their friends from trafficking. That whole area has a lot to do with awareness and self-esteem. They put together early attempts at what we’re doing today. They began with kids in independent after school programs and now we’re in three Macon high schools working with freshmen. Our women students work with girls and men with boys. They teach, they mentor. They’ve done quite a job and school officials have been great.
Q: You live in Warner Robins but teach at Mercer, that’s why it’s Macon focused?
A: We’d love to be in more schools but it’s a matter of manpower. The good thing, though, is other universities and groups have come to us asking to look at what we’re doing as a model for themselves, so if we can export it the idea will multiply.
Q: But should it? Is it doing any good?
A: We’re all about research, so yes, we’ve done benchmark studies and kept up with data. We educated 800 freshmen last year in the three schools with 25 to 30 of our team at each school. The real magic in the program is the college-age to high school mentoring. We’ve had 2,200 kids since inception. Our research shows one in nine know a friend who’s sold themselves for sex. Shocking, right? When asked if they knew someone forced to sell themselves, the previous answer was one in 14 but last year one in 11. So statistically, if a class has 25 students, that’s two kids.
Q: What impact is the program having?
A: We’ve just surveyed and compare 11th graders who’ve done our program with those who haven’t. We looked at attitudes and awareness and whatnot. The big difference came in the awareness level of the problem and dangers. The real kicker to me is the confidence level it showed they had that they could solve a problem if they or friends were confronted with a situation. They felt they knew what to do, how to respond, who to call. Pretty cool, huh? So we’re seeing long-term behavior and attitude change.
Q: And you see the connection not only with the July 30 world awareness day’s goals — which this year focuses on trafficked children — but also local headlines, including an alleged trafficking attempt at a Macon ballpark?
A: Oh yeah, and it’s not a Macon Bacon security problem, believe me. Get real, it’s a societal problem. It’s a problem everywhere. It’s a problem at home, at friend’s, at the mall, at church and online for sure. Now you can’t get all paranoid and not live your life and be afraid to do anything or go anywhere, but my goodness, be aware and know how to respond and watch out for one another. That’s one reason I’m so proud of the people locally who are aware and others who’ve gotten deeply involved. And especially proud of our Mercer students who’ve taken up the challenge to really cared and make a difference in kid’s lives.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.