In the wake of a national crackdown on sex trafficking crimes, the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center aims to develop a coordinated response guide for Lowcountry agencies to better help victims.
Executive Director Carole Swiecicki said the handling of trafficking cases requires a special approach because pimps tend to condition young victims into believing the authorities can't be trusted.
"The traffickers oftentimes target the most vulnerable children and pitch to them that sex trafficking is their only way out. They really try to ingrain in children that this is the only thing they can do and that no one else will be there for them," Swiecicki said. "The children can be resistant to services because they don't realize that the system is trying to help them."
Upwards of 80 percent of minor trafficking victims have a history of child welfare involvement, she added.
About $25,000 in grant money helped fund additional trafficking training for the center's staff in March.
Beginning in August, she said, the center will hold monthly meetings with the state departments of Juvenile Justice and Social Services, law enforcement, and medical and mental health specialists to create a set of guidelines that will increase awareness.
Swiecicki said the effort is needed in Charleston because pimps often target tourist destinations hoping to cash in on the frequent flow of visitors.
"Places like Atlanta, Richland, and California have larger hubs than our area, but this is definitely happening here as well," she said.
Swiecicki's comments follow a federal probe that netted the arrest of two known pimps in South Carolina and the rescue of a North Charleston teenager.
In June, investigators targeted 106 cities nationwide and recovered 168 children who had been subjected to prostitution, according to the FBI. Agents arrested a total of 281 pimps on state and federal charges in the initiative, known as Operation Cross Country.
The week-long effort involved the FBI, local law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
According to Michael Stansbury, the FBI program coordinator of the Violent Crimes Against Children program, an investigation is still ongoing in the case of the North Charleston teenager and no arrests have been made.
He identified two pimps arrested in Richland and Lexington counties as Harold David Hopkins, 43, and Antonio Gaillard, 29.
Stansbury said Hopkins was arrested on state charges of trafficking heroin, and Gaillard was charged with possession of cocaine. Neither was held on federal charges.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson recently announced his office would take an aggressive approach toward fighting human trafficking in the state.
The Polaris Project, a national organization that fights global human trafficking, in 2011 ranked the Palmetto State as No. 6 of the "Dirty Dozen," for having weak laws on the issue. In the years since, however, the state has passed sweeping reforms to the law, knocking South Carolina off the list.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.
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