At a press conference on Jan. 11 marking National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson revealed results from the 2020 Human Trafficking Task Force’s Annual Report.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
Wilson noted that the top five counties with calls to the National Human Trafficking hotline included Horry, Charleston, Greenville, Richland and Anderson counties. “[Information from the hotline] trickles down through the funnel. It goes to various agencies, including law enforcement agencies, and then investigations are done. Sometimes the tips at the hotline end up being human trafficking, sometimes they might end up being [something else],” Wilson said. The hotline has helped raise awareness and identify 179 victims across the state.
“In 2020, 10 different defendants were charged with 13 counts of human trafficking,” Wilson said. There’s an additional 75 cases pending in state courts.
For Greenville, Greenlink and local organizations like Jasmine Road, are working to raise awareness of trafficking and helping victims.
For over a year now Greenville’s transit authority, Greenlink, has been behind a public awareness campaign and training program to raise awareness of human trafficking in Greenville thanks to a $20,936 grant by the Federal Transit Administration.
Greenlink has posted information on ad spaces on its buses, inside buses and at stop shelters. The transport system has planned a video educating bus drivers of signs that someone may be trafficked. While parts of the campaign, like a planned catered training, changed due to the pandemic, Nicole McAden, marketing and public affairs manager at Greenlink, says they are rolling with the punches to find the best way to deliver information about trafficking to its customers.
One reason Greenlink applied for the grant was the disproportionate amount of people seeking assistance for trafficking in the Greenville area. There’s a high likelihood, McAden says, that someone at risk for being trafficked will use public transit.
South Carolina saw 139 cases of human trafficking in 2020, down from 159 last year.
“Those that are higher at risk are those that are homeless, runaway youth, any individual that may be facing an addiction or just a vulnerability and public transit,” says McAden, noting the low cost of public transit make it easier for these people to use. “They’re coming on board, they’re using public transit services because it is easy.”
Other riders using public transit could also provide an opportunity to alert authorities if they see something suspicious. Bus drivers and other employees could be interacting with potential victims. Educating everyone on recognizing the signs of a victim of trafficking could lead to more victims being saved.
Beth Messick, executive director of Jasmine Road, an organization that works with survivors of human trafficking, says people are shocked to learn trafficking happens in Greenville. Since the pandemic, Messick says they’ve seen at least a third more requests for assistance from trafficking survivors.
“Trafficking is happening here in the Upstate,” says Messick. “It’s kind of hard to believe for a lot of people, because we live in this beautiful town.”
But, Messick says, it happens in Upstate homes, hotels, massage parlors and other places. And while she agrees that trafficking victims may be from vulnerable groups, victims may also be from more affluent backgrounds. Traffickers will often prey on people’s weaknesses.
“There’s not really a stereotypical human trafficking victim because human trafficking victims come from all walks of life,” she says.
If you’re concerned someone is being trafficked, contact your local authorities or call 1 (888) 373-7888.