The South Carolina Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Task Force released new numbers from 2020 showing the scourge is not going away and COVID-19 has only made things worse, as traffickers prey on the most vulnerable.
Traffickers look for vulnerabilities and exploit them. Fresh data from the report on how victims become ensnared by traffickers shows most of the time it starts with an ad for a job. Other times the trafficker is familiar with the victim — an intimate partner or the victim becomes indebted by receiving a loan. Soon the victim is coerced, manipulated and trapped.
“It presents a public health and a public safety issue that violates basic human rights,” said Attorney General Alan Wilson at a press conference from the Statehouse on Jan. 11.
The AG’s office said in South Carolina, victims are forced to become escorts, get involved in pornography or work at illicit massage spas. Less often, some victims are overworked in industries like hospitality, food service, agriculture and construction. The report shows a majority of the victims are female in their early and late teens.
The SC Human Trafficking Task Force consists of various state and local law enforcement and state agencies. Other agencies include DSS, Department of Mental Health as well as other outside advisors from the hospitality, transportation and construction industries.
“The State Task Force continues its efforts, in collaboration with regional task forces across the state, to raise awareness of the National Human Trafficking Hotline number so victims can reach out for help and community members can report suspected incidents,” said Wilson.
There were 139 cases of human trafficking reported in the 2020 report. AG Wilson also reported 179 victim cases through the Human Trafficking Hotline alone. The 2020 report showed a change in the top five counties reporting the crime.
Number one for human trafficking reports in South Carolina is Horry County for the second year. The remaining counties, in order, included Charleston, Greenville, Richland, and Anderson County. Dorchester dropped out of the top five in this year’s report.
The AG reported being in the top five doesn’t necessarily mean those counties have the most human trafficking, counties with active task forces have raised awareness about the crime and how to report it, so being one of the top counties, he said, could be because it’s reported more, not because it’s happening there more.
At the Jan. 11, press conference Wilson called human trafficking a complex crime. And recent numbers from the report show prosecuting those suspected of being involved is tricky. The report showed in 2020, ten different defendants were charged with human trafficking, some with more than one charge, totaling 13 charges of human trafficking in state courts.
The AG’s office said three defendants pled guilty in 2020 to charges related to trafficking. Five charges were dismissed, one because the defendant pled to a different charge for a total of eight cases closed.
Currently the report shows there are 75 charges of human trafficking pending in South Carolina State Courts with 22 different defendants. All of the pending charges involve sex trafficking allegations.
If you or someone you know may be involved in human trafficking, call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.