(COLUMBIA, S.C.) – On National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson released the state’s Human Trafficking Task Force annual report for 2018. South Carolina was recently recognized by Shared Hope International as the most improved state in the nation in combatting human trafficking.
Human trafficking is the second largest crime worldwide, behind drug trafficking and tied with arms dealing. It’s often referred to as modern day slavery and it poses massive human rights, public safety, and public health concerns across the nation, including in South Carolina.
“Many people think human trafficking is something you only see in movies and I used to have the same perspective,” Attorney General Wilson said. “However, it’s happening in communities across South Carolina. We sit between Atlanta and Charlotte, two of the biggest hubs in the nation for trafficking. The annual report details recent data supplied by the National Hotline, the efforts underway by the State Task Force to combat the crime and how we can continue to improve our approach moving forward.”
In order to fight a problem, you have to know the size of it. In 2018, the Human Trafficking Task Force made progress in achieving a data collection system in South Carolina. The next step for 2019 is to finalize the details of that data collection system and launch it later this year. Knowing the number of victims and survivors who need services will help providers meet those needs and seek grant funding to support their efforts.
Polaris provided data that now places Richland County in the number one position for cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline followed by Horry, Greenville, Charleston, and Beaufort counties. The Task Force also reported that: the number one venue for human trafficking is illicit massage parlors; employers and intimate partners are the two biggest offenders; and females are the most victimized, but males are falling prey as well.
According to the annual report, 13 new cases were charged in 2018, with three involving victims who were under 18 years of age. There were 64 cases closed last year and 20 human trafficking cases pending in the South Carolina State Courts as we enter 2019. Richland County has 52% of the pending cases with Horry and Lexington Counties following with 10% and Greenville and Greenwood with 9%. Laurens and Berkley each had 5% of the remaining cases.
The annual report also says that the State Task Force members have been training first responders to identify and respond appropriately to cases of human trafficking. This month the first state-level training for healthcare providers will be conducted in Columbia. There are also plans for more effective training for law enforcement in the investigation of human trafficking and how to best support those who have been victimized.
The annual report states there’s a lack of funding to support sufficient services for victims and survivors of human trafficking. One of the goals for 2019 is to identify grants and other funding sources.
Last year, the State Task Force used VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) grant funds to put billboards in the Aiken, Florence, and Orangeburg areas to increase tip reporting to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and to educate victims about how they can get help and escape a trafficking situation. Those billboards have been viewed approximately six million times. In 2019, the Task Force will continue to post billboards and begin distributing a human trafficking awareness brochure and posters.
Some posters will be specifically designed for schools and organizations that serve young people. Last year, the Task Force held a one-day Human Trafficking Youth Advocacy Summit for high school students from across the state. There were 150 attendees. It was the first step in developing a network of youth around the state who can educate their peers and potentially prevent others from becoming victims.
“Young people are often targeted by traffickers,” said the Attorney General’s Task Force Coordinator Kathryn Moorehead. “We want to help better educate young people to ensure they are more capable of protecting themselves from these predators. It’s a serious crime that needs to be addressed in an age appropriate manner in our schools and youth serving agencies.”
South Carolina was the most improved state in the nation last year in large part because state lawmakers broadened the definition of abuse and neglect within the child welfare system allowing minor victims of sex trafficking to receive services through the Department of Social Services. Additionally, they passed tougher laws against those who traffic minor victims and positioned the State Task Force to provide oversight of direct service providers in our state.
To continue improving, Attorney General Wilson says the Attorney General’s Office will need more resources to fight this growing crime. “It’s a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, so there’s no way our state can match the traffickers dollar-for-dollar. We have a legislatively mandated Task Force that needs money to keep making progress and saving lives,” Attorney General Wilson said.
You can read the full annual report on the Attorney General’s Office website,www.scag.gov.
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