The South Carolina Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Task Force said it will form new partnerships and make improvements as it seeks to address the issue.
Attorney General Alan Wilson released the 2018 Human Trafficking Task Force Annual Report last week in a Statehouse news conference.
“In order to fight a problem, you have to know the size of it,” Wilson told reporters. “In 2018, the Human Trafficking Task Force made progress in achieving a data collection system in South Carolina. The next step for 2019 is to finalize the details of that data collection system and launch it later this year. Knowing the number of victims and survivors who need services will help providers meet those needs and seek grant funding to support their efforts.”
That data collection resulted in a change for the highest five counties in the state in terms of human trafficking reports. While Greenville County was most in the state in 2017, Richland County took the top spot in 2018.
But Wilson said that’s not a bad thing.
“I think Richland County is doing something right because they’re finding it and they’re going after it and the more you look the more you find,” he said. “So I want to qualify these. These are the top five counties that are being reported. So, thank you Richland County for your efforts to root out human trafficking.”
The five counties with the most reports of human trafficking remained the same from 2017, they simply changed order: Richland, Horry, Greenville, Charleston and Beaufort. According to the annual report, 13 new cases were charged in 2018, with three involving victims who were under 18 years of age. There were 64 cases closed last year and 20 human trafficking cases pending in the South Carolina state courts. Richland County has 52% of the pending cases, with Horry and Lexington Counties following with 10% and Greenville and Greenwood with 9%. Laurens and Berkley each had 5% of the remaining cases.
Wilson also introduced new partners involved in the task force, including the South Carolina Hospital Association, the trucking industry, and Governor Henry McMaster’s office, represented by the First Lady Peggy McMaster and Lieutenant Governor Pamela Evette.
“This is not something that just affects a small section of people,” Evette said. “Anybody can be a victim. I think every mom, every dad in the state, we worry every time our children walk out of the house.”
Wilson said the governor’s support will immediately help. McMaster declared Friday “Human Trafficking Day in South Carolina,” by proclamation.
“It brings attention. It brings support,” Wilson said. “The governor’s going to be behind our efforts in both funding and legislation. And we need that.”
Evette said she plans to take the issue statewide.
“What I want to do is be the face of it,” she said. “Bring it to people, talk to people. The thing I’m going to love most about my new role and the new role of the lieutenant governor is I can be the ambassador.”
The task force held a one-day Human Trafficking Youth Advocacy Summit last year for high school students across the state. It was the first step in developing a network of teens around the state who can educate their peers and potentially prevent others from becoming victims.
“Young people are often targeted by traffickers,” Task Force Coordinator Kathryn Moorehead said. “We want to help better educate young people to ensure they are more capable of protecting themselves from these predators. It’s a serious crime that needs to be addressed in an age-appropriate manner in our schools and youth-serving agencies.”
South Carolina was the most improved state in the nation last year, according to the advocacy group Shared Hope International, in large part because state lawmakers broadened the definition of abuse and neglect within the child welfare system allowing minor victims of sex trafficking to receive services through the Department of Social Services. The legislature also passed tougher laws against those who traffic minor victims and positioned the task force to provide oversight of direct service providers in South Carolina.
“Since 2012 we’ve gone from being ranked as one of the worst states in the nation to being one of the best,” Wilson said. “I’m proud of how far we’ve come.”
Wilson and Moorehead anticipate legislation proposed for the current session will help the state deal with the issue as well.