State officials dealt with more than 100 victims of human trafficking last year and are asking law enforcement agencies to keep an eye out for potential cases to help address the issue.
Members of the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Task Force are also asking officers provide 2014 and 2015 cases of prostitution, sexual exploitation of a child and other similar crimes for the task force to comb through in hopes of identifying potential cases of human trafficking.
The effort would ideally allow the task force to compile data for those two years in hopes of identifying trends and areas they should target. In 2015, about a dozen participating task force agencies reported helping 155 victims, though officials warn about 20 or so could be duplicate cases.
“I do feel like people don’t realize human trafficking is happening here in South Carolina,” said Marie Sazehn, an assistant South Carolina Attorney General. “As people learn to track this problem, we learn to identify it, and we learn to better work with it.”
Sazehn stressed participating law enforcement agencies don’t have to identify potential cases themselves; the task force will do it for them. The lack of data is a nationwide issue, she added.
In May, South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Costa Pleicones ordered all family and circuit judges attend an Aug. 16 human trafficking summit to help them identify potential cases going through their courtroom. The attendance of prosecutors, public defenders, and representatives of the State Law Enforcement Division is not mandatory but is expected.
More than 40 members of the task force met Friday, as they do every quarter. This time, they listened to a presentation by The Salvation Army’s efforts in North Carolina, and how they hope to expand them into the Palmetto State.
Major Thomas Louden, of the Salvation Army, stressed their efforts will not provide an overnight solution, but they can help them identify areas where traffickers work from.
Louden said human traffickers most often target touristy areas, like Charleston and Myrtle Beach. But they can also be found operating in less urban and smaller municipalities, and are often quick to move.
“This is a fight that we can and must win,” Louden said.
More than 100,000 children are victims of human trafficking nationwide, according to the Salvation Army. Two Greenville residents were the first to be sentenced on trafficking charges in October.