The Sun News

Local group and WRPD officer work to combat human trafficking and help victims

Lt. Lance Watson of the Warner Robins Police Department discusses a new community group working to fight human trafficking, help victims and educate others.

Q: How would you describe this new group you’re involved in?

A: I’d call it a grassroots community effort by people from different areas of the community with different experience who want to end human trafficking, educate the public and help those trafficked.

Q: What sort of human trafficking are you talking about?

A: There are different types, but basically there’s human trafficking for labor exploitation and human trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Q: What’s the name of the new group?

A: On one hand we’re just a loose conglomeration of people joining together without a name and I’m involved as sort of liaison with the Warner Robins Police Department. On the other hand, April Scarborough is president and founder of a particular organization called Victoria’s Lighthouse and driving force behind our coming together. She is relentless and is a victim of trafficking so she’s got quite a story and can relate to others.

Q: Is Victoria’s Lighthouse an official government agency?

A: No, it’s a community group. I help them deal with government agencies like the Department of Family and Children Services, law enforcement and others. It’s easier for them to work and accomplish things in some areas and me in others as an officer.

Q: Can you describe what Victoria’s Lighthouse does?

A: Right now it’s involved in helping educate and raise public awareness. This happens by speaking about it and doing things like the vigils we’ve had, the latest recently at the police department with Mayor Randy Toms attending. In time, there’s a plan for a place where victims can find restoration. Now, we can provide information toward available services and, of course, April can provide a listening ear to those who’ve been through it. We’re in early stages.

Q: How do you see your role? A: I’m doing anything I can to make people more aware. I’m helping others in law enforcement become more aware of the issues involved in prostitution and human trafficking and the fact they’re not all as simple as we once thought. I’m involved in getting helpful ordinances passed, like a local one in line with state mandates for posters with hotline numbers be placed in hotels and other venues so persons being trafficked might see them and call. I may be involved in finding those needing to be rescued and helped. I’m connected with law enforcement task forces and hope to see others multiplied throughout the state. There are other local volunteer groups who’ve been active for a good while, like Out of Darkness Middle Georgia, which does street outreach in Middle Georgia and I’ve helped them in situations they weren’t comfortable approaching. So I’ve definitely gotten involved.

Q: How did you get involved? And why?

A: Mostly through April’s and other’s making me aware. Honestly, being involved is an opportunity to make up for mistakes made in dealing in areas like runaways and prostitution and whatnot. Realizing what I do now, I know that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes and a lot of people need help more than locking up. These are complicated things, but we’ve begun understanding many people treated as criminals have actually been victims. I’m proud to say our department has come a long way through training from the GBI, the state attorney general’s office and Georgia Cares.

Q: You see solutions coming from many directions?

A: There’s no other way. We have to work together. And we’ve got to know our limitations, that there are things law enforcement can’t do and thing volunteers can’t do, but together we can do so much. Those who’ve been trafficked are dealing with legal issues, physical issues, psychological issues, often drug dependencies and all sorts of deep problems. No one group alone has the answer.

Q: The question has to be asked, and some may wonder, is this really a local problem? After all, this isn’t Atlanta.

A: You’re just naïve if you think it’s not. With the internet, with our proximity to interstates and to Atlanta, with the immense criminal profitability of human trafficking — yes, it’s a very real local problem and danger. Unfortunately, because we’re just getting to where we’re able to connect the dots, we don’t have good local statistics. But I can tell you from experience and hindsight, knowing what I know now, there is a problem and I’m glad our department, city and citizens are getting to work to prevent human trafficking, help victims and see predators and traffickers put away.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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