The insidious crime of human trafficking often unfolds behind closed doors – but it also lurks in plain sight – impacting lives in unexpected places such as construction sites, restaurants, bars, clubs, elder care centers, nail salons, agricultural fields, and hotels. Recognizing the signs and understanding the tactics employed by traffickers is crucial for everyone. While awaiting the compiled statistics for 2023, the harrowing figures from 2022 reveal that South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) supported 416 human trafficking victims from 440 cases – with 399 being minors and 17 being adult victims.
The South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force, established in 2012, plays a pivotal role in combating this grave issue. The task force comprises 11 mandated member agencies, two appointed non-governmental organizations, and nearly 800 individual members. Leading a strategic, multi-disciplinary approach to combat human trafficking, the task force also submits annual reports to state authorities. This commitment is integral to continually improving anti-trafficking efforts across the state.
Community Awareness and Vigilance
With coastal areas and scenic tourist attractions, South Carolina plays a crucial role in identifying potential human trafficking incidents crossing through the state. As the U.S. anti-trafficking movement evolves, individuals such as medical professionals, teachers, truck drivers, housekeeping industries, and restaurant personnel are recognized as key contributors to identifying and reporting possible trafficking. Empowering everyone to learn about the types of trafficking and to pay attention to their surroundings is essential.
Human trafficking preys on those with vulnerabilities within communities. Understanding these risk factors is crucial, as individuals facing unstable living situations, previous experiences of violence, undocumented immigration, and economic struggles may be particularly susceptible. People may be vulnerable to trafficking if they have, or a caregiver or family member has, a substance use issue. They are often facing poverty, have previously experienced forms of sexual abuse or domestic violence, and have run away or is/was involved in the juvenile justice system, child welfare programs, or the foster care system.
Key red flags that should prompt reporting include living with an employer, poor living conditions, scripted and rehearsed answers, signs of physical abuse, and underage individuals engaged in prostitution. Employers holding identity documents, unpaid or underpaid labor, and signs of coercion are also telltale signs. Other key red flags that could alert you to a potential trafficking situation may also include the victim residing with multiple people crammed into a small place and the inability to speak to you alone.
Engaging in private conversations with potential victims is pivotal. Sample questions to ask include inquiries about their overall freedom of movement, living conditions, threats of harm, family safety, living arrangements, any debt owed to an employer, and if they are in possession of their own identification cards or papers. Becoming aware of signs such as disconnection from social circles, sudden behavior changes, or signs of physical or mental abuse is also important. Observe if the answers to your questions appear to be rehearsed or scripted, if the person lacks their own personal possessions, or if they seem fearful and unfamiliar with their surroundings.
Contrary to stereotypes, there is no evidence that traffickers are more likely to be of a particular race, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation. They can be family members, romantic partners, acquaintances, or strangers.
Human traffickers often use deceptive stories to lure in individuals, promising romantic love or appealing job opportunities. Warning signs may include a refusal to provide signed contracts, collecting fees for job opportunities, or sudden involvement in asymmetric romantic relationships.
Recognizing Labor Trafficking and Sex Trafficking
Labor trafficking and sex trafficking are prevalent forms of exploitation. Labor trafficking victims may feel pressured to stay in an undesirable job, owe money to their employers, lack control over their own identification documents, or work in isolated conditions with threats of harm or deportation. Victims of sex trafficking may want to leave but fear reprisal, live where they work, or have controlling figures in their lives. They may also work at businesses that have been known to be prone to exploitation – such as strip clubs or illicit massage establishments.
Where to Get Help
For urgent situations, call 911 to notify local law enforcement. The National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 offers 24-hour, toll-free multilingual support for reporting tips, connecting with anti-trafficking services, and accessing information and resources. It is a crucial lifeline for potential trafficking victims, community members, law enforcement, medical professionals, legal professionals, service providers, employers, teachers, students, and policymakers.
Combating human trafficking requires our collective vigilance, and action. We must all remain aware, informed, and committed to creating a safer, more secure environment for everyone in our community. By understanding the indicators, recognizing vulnerabilities, and knowing where to seek help – all individuals in South Carolina can contribute to the eradication of this heinous crime. The Floyd Law Firm PC stands alongside those dedicated to combating human trafficking, offering support and legal guidance in the pursuit of justice for victims.