New legislation in the General Assembly could make it easier to investigate and prosecute human sex trafficking cases in South Carolina.
At the start of national Human Trafficking Prevention Month, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, joined by a state task force of law enforcement officers, local and state government officials and victims advocates, on Tuesday announced support of a bill that would give the state grand jury jurisdiction over human trafficking cases.
Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and in the House of Representatives by Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, the measure effectively would allow human trafficking cases to be pursued across multiple county jurisdictions and brought before a grand jury for indictment.
Wilson contrasted the state’s current lack of ability to pursue human traffickers across county lines with the state’s ability to do just that to drug traffickers.
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“Human beings are far more important to me than drugs being carted across county lines,” Wilson said at a Tuesday news conference. “And I believe we need to empower local law enforcement and prosecutors with the ability to cross the county line.”
Wilson said he hopes to see the bill passed in the Senate and House by the end of February.
The scope of human trafficking in the state is impossible to quantify without the proper tools to follow investigations all the way through, as most human trafficking cases are not contained to one county, said Heather Weiss, an assistant deputy attorney general who supervises the state’s interagency Human Trafficking Task Force.
Charlie Benton, a special victims detective with the North Charleston Police Department, recently told Wilson that the only thing that worries him about passing the bill is “what we’re going to find, because it’s going to uncover even more” human trafficking, Wilson said.
“One of the questions that I’m frequently asked is, ‘Do we really have this problem here in South Carolina?’” Benton said. “We absolutely do have this problem. ... The bill that’s being proposed is absolutely essential for me to be able to do my job.”