By Nicole Collins, Staff Writer
Human trafficking. It’s one of those things that you think doesn’t happen where you live. But it does. It’s much closer than we think.
The number of recorded human trafficking victims in South Carolina increased by 360% in 2019, according to the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force 2019 annual report. There were 678 reported victims in 2019 compared to 188 reported in 2018.
“The large increase in victims recorded speaks to efforts across the state to raise awareness of the National Human Trafficking Hotline number so victims know how to reach out for help,” said Attorney General Alan Wilson in a press release when the report was released. “We also recognize that the regional task forces are better educating members of their communities on the issue, which in turn causes shifts in the top five counties each year.
Wilson is the chair of the state task force, which was legislatively mandated in 2012 to combat human trafficking in South Carolina. The state task force also has eight regional coalitions, with Greenville, Laurens and Spartanburg counties falling into the Upstate Human Trafficking Task Force.
According to the National Hotline data in 2019, Greenville ranks #2 among South Carolina counties with the highest reports of human trafficking.
In the Upstate, the nonprofit SWITCH has been at the forefront of the coordinated effort to identify victims, prevent exploitation through education, decrease demand, and improve the well-being of survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, which is still relatively new to South Carolina.
Zaina Greene, executive director of SWITCH and a co-chair for the Upstate Task Force, provided The Woodruff Times with the following information: “With a rapidly growing population, and an increase in tourism, the Upstate of South Carolina has seen rising numbers of human sex trafficking cases. Although understanding the extent and scope of human trafficking throughout the state is critical to developing an effective strategy to combat the crime, data collection has been sparse, in large part due to the underground nature of these crimes. Through the State Task Force’s ongoing partnership with the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the Task Force receives data that informs the statewide response. In 2019, the SC Attorney General’s Office reported a 360% increase in the total number of victims recorded in South Carolina compared to the previous year based on data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It should be noted that 113 of the reported 156 cases were related to sex trafficking, as opposed to labor trafficking only.”
From December 2007 to December 2019, 63,380 cases of human trafficking has been identified through the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. There was a 19% increase in contact from victims and survivors from 2018 to 2019. The Trafficking Hotline provides the largest known data on sex and labor trafficking in the United States. The number is 888-373-7888.
South Carolina has partnered with the Department of Homeland Security to promote the Blue Campaign, a national public awareness campaign designed to educate the public, law enforcement and other partners to recognize the indicators of human trafficking and how to appropriately respond. Blue is the international color of human trafficking awareness.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness month and Jan. 11 is #WearBlueDay