December 24, 2014

“A little dark secret no one talked about”: SC creates new plan to confront human trafficking

Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson is joined by victims advocates and others after his office released the report Thursday

Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson is joined by victims advocates and others after his office released the report Thursday

Calling it “a little dark secret” that is much worse than he realized, South Carolina’s top prosecutor released a new plan that instructs law enforcement and state agencies on how to deal with human trafficking cases in South Carolina.

The new plan was created by a statewide task force under a 2012 law that dramatically expanded how trafficking rings could be investigated and prosecuted in South Carolina.

“It’s not easy to fight a war against an enemy that you don’t really see, who doesn’t wear a uniform,” Attorney General Alan Wilson told reporters while releasing the new plan on Thursday. “What’s interesting about the human trafficking plague that is on us right now is that it is very much real.”

The plan’s executive summary notes a current lack of data or numbers about unwilling sex slaves in South Carolina, or total convictions or arrests on trafficking charges. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported 285 calls or online tips to its hotline from South Carolina last year, but those numbers are not considered an indication of actual trafficking.

Wilson said he did not realize how prevalent trafficking is in South Carolina until the task force began meeting. “Human trafficking today is kind of where domestic violence was 30 years ago. It was a little dark secret that no one talked about.”

The 2012 law gave law enforcement much more leeway to fight trafficking, according to Assistant Attorney General Kelly Hall. “The old law was written in such a way that you really didn’t understand what was being criminalized,” she said. “The language was not clear and not very specific. It was just very general.” Hall oversees prosecution of trafficking and crimes against women in the AG’s Office.

The 58-page report outlines five areas where the task force felt state leaders and nonprofits were coming up short in dealing with the problem. Besides the lack of data, the report notes insufficient funding for survivors’ shelters, lack of resources and information-sharing by law enforcement, and inadequate enforcement of existing state law.

Wilson said the task force is encouraging law enforcement to more deeply investigate prostitution arrests and discern if prostitutes are possible unwilling victims of a trafficking. The plan also calls recommends better training to help medical professionals, labor agencies, and first reponders watch for “red flags.”

The task force will next meet in September. All meetings are open to the public.