COLUMBIA — South Carolina law requires posting of human trafficking awareness posters in hotels, bars and airports.
But with Columbia hosting first- and second-round games of the NCAA men's basketball tournament this weekend, the posters are on display for the first time ever in Colonial Life Arena.
“There’s always an increase in online solicitation around large sports events, which lands a lot of people in trafficking,” said Alexis Williams Scurry, the project coordinator for the Richland County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force who pushed for adding the posters.
Now, posters with the human trafficking hotline and other awareness information are in stalls in the men’s and women’s restrooms of Colonial Life Arena in preparation for games Friday and Sunday in college basketball's biggest annual event.
The Richland County task force along with the S.C. Human Trafficking Task Force, chaired by state Attorney General Alan Wilson, asked the University of South Carolina for permission to place the materials in the school’s arena during the high-profile games. Columbia has not hosted the NCAA men's basketball tournament in 49 years.
The school was on board, but USC Athletics Director Ray Tanner reached out to the NCAA to get its approval before giving the task force the final green light.
“It was a very short turnaround time before (the NCAA) said, ‘Absolutely,’” Tanner said.
The posters have a few purposes.
They help familiarize thousands of fans at the games with what constitutes human trafficking — it's not just prostitution but can be forced housework or farm labor. The posters include a phone number to call and a way to text for reporting suspected trafficking or for a victim to seek help.
“This poster in a restroom could be a victim’s one chance to see the number when they’re away from their trafficker,” said Robert Kittle, the spokesman for the attorney general's office.
Anti-human trafficking advocates aren’t stopping with posters at the arena.
They are canvassing the restaurants in downtown Columbia and asking permission to place posters in noticeable spots where fans will dine over the weekend of games.
“These posters reinforce a clear message that Richland County is all over this thing,” said Richland County Councilman Jim Manning, the founder and chair of the county’s task force against human trafficking. “Our team’s hashtag is #notinthiscounty and that’s the reputation we want out there.”