When people think about societal problems, they usually think of crime, poverty, substance abuse, the burgeoning and undertreated mental health crisis in addition to a host of other ailments. In the world of crime, we’re prone to thinking of all sorts of things. For most folks, though, sex crimes aren’t necessarily high on the list, although obviously rape is major concern that at one time used to be considered a capital offense.
Technically, “the world’s oldest profession” (prostitution) is illegal throughout most of the country, but a lot of people don’t really get too upset about it as long as no one gets hurt and with the further understanding that consenting adults are involved.
But what exactly is sex trafficking and how does it differ from routine prostitution? The term “sex trafficking” sounds kind of benign on the surface probably because most of us don’t really understand what it means. What’s being trafficked — inanimate sex toys, pornography, what? Hasn’t that always been routine business? If people are to be considered, the term sounds malevolent, as in forced labor (so to speak), a type of slavery. But that kind of thing doesn’t really go on here. That’s more Third World countries, parts of the old Soviet Union and Southeast Asia, right?
Wrong. It’s a problem and I’d be willing to bet most people don’t understand how big a problem it is — right here in the USA. I certainly didn’t have a satisfactory grasp of the matter at all until a recent conversation with Brooke M. Burris, a 2016 USC Law grad (and a former Miss South Carolina), who became passionate about this major societal issue while in law school, and is now the first chair of the newly-formed Tri-County Human Trafficking Task Force.
Mrs. Burris worked on human trafficking prevention for a year in San Diego as director of policy with the William D. Lynch Foundation for Children. Its founder, philanthropist Bill Lynch, has an interest in working with Brooke and raising awareness here in South Carolina. She is further locally assisted by Dr. Bob Kahle, director of research for the College of Charleston’s Riley Center for Livable Communities, and also Barbara Brown, former FBI Special Agent for human trafficking cases in Atlanta who now lives in Mount Pleasant.
In speaking with Brooke, it’s clear she is very emotionally connected with the victims of sex trafficking — many of whom happen to be children — and disgusted by the great injustices “pimps” inflict upon their victims, who rarely get the proper help or see their tormentors appropriately prosecuted. She feels violation of this sort involving young girls and women is ultimately bad for all of society and that something needs to be done about it.
Unfortunately, obvious targets are young runaways who might initially be seduced by the lure of money and the excitement of rebellion, but will ultimately be coerced through fraudulent manipulation, trickery, drugs, physical intimidation and the looming threat of being totally broke, hungry and with no roof over their heads. A fundamental difference between ordinary prostitution and trafficking is the ultimate lack of consent afflicting those in the latter group.
This will be hard to read, but some of the trafficked victims will serve up to 10-15 clients per day and will make up to $1,000 for a day’s work — mostly in cash. Imagine what one day of work would do to one’s psyche under these conditions, and then imagine what it would do day ... after day ... after day ...
The objective of these organizations is literally to rescue trafficking victims from bondage and on Brooke’s bucket list are a local multidisciplinary site, federal aid, and a multi-pronged law enforcement approach targeting clients, pimps and even commercial accommodations that facilitate this type of activity when it’s perfectly obvious, for example, that something really awful is happening involving a minor.
Sex and child trafficking are a significant local (and national) problem and, I, with my head in the sand really didn’t have a clue.
It should further be mentioned that two child advocacy centers, Dee Norton and Dorchester Children’s are involved as well and lead a child sex trafficking workgroup for the area.
Please visit the tricountytaskforce.org website, get involved and please consider helping out (and that would include with a check, btw.) Peoples’ lives are truly at stake. Brooke may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.