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Dozens of human trafficking cases in Beaufort, Hampton and Jasper

Did you know that four incidents of human trafficking were confirmed in small, rural Hampton County in 2023? And six in Jasper County, eight more in Beaufort County?

A total of 24 cases of human trafficking were reported in Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties last year, according to the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force's 2023 annual report.

Human trafficking is a widespread problem that affects every county in South Carolina, regardless of size and population, and most people don't even know exactly what human trafficking means, how it happens, or how to watch for the warning signs.

What exactly is human trafficking?

“Human trafficking is a form of sexual assault and can be a form of child abuse,” said Michelle Fraser of the 14th Circuit Victims Services Center and co-chair of the Lowcountry Human Trafficking Task Force. “Any time someone is under the age of 18 and is involved in the sex trade, it is a form of human trafficking. »

But this scourge which weighs on society and humanity goes beyond sexual assault and child abuse.

Fraser added that not only does sex trafficking exist in our region, but so does labor trafficking, most commonly in the food and beverage, hospitality, agriculture and service industries.

And these crimes are on the rise in South Carolina, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in the annual report.

“In 2023, we saw an increase in cases reported by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the vast majority involving the sex trafficking of minors,” Wilson said. “The South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force remains steadfast in its efforts to prevent crime and meet the needs of victims while continuing to pursue perpetrators. »

According to the task force's 2023 statistics, SLED opened 357 human trafficking cases in South Carolina last year, involving 498 reported victims, the vast majority involving sex trafficking cases. The majority of victims were minors, most of them women.

There are several types of sex trafficking, just as there are several types of labor trafficking, but the most vulnerable people targeted by traffickers include the following populations, according to the South Carolina Attorney General's website:

  • Young people placed in foster care
  • Runaway/homeless youth
  • Foreign nationals
  • People with Disabilities
  • People with a history of trauma or abuse
  • People with a history of substance abuse and dependence
  • LGBTQIA+ individuals
  • Low-income people

To read the detailed report in its entirety, go to www.scag.gov/media/tctchxqn/2023annualreport_final.pdf

What are the warning signs or indicators of human trafficking?

Some of the warning signs, or indicators of human trafficking, include the following victim behaviors or conditions:

  • Living with the employer
  • Bad life conditions
  • Several people in a small space
  • Inability to speak to individuals alone
  • Responses appear to be scripted and rehearsed
  • The employer holds identity documents
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Submissive or fearful
  • Unpaid or very little paid
  • Under 18 and in prostitution

Understanding the types of human trafficking, what to watch for, and then reporting suspicious activity to police can, in the long term, help reduce this threat to vulnerable populations. Law enforcement is also taking steps to better educate its officers on these issues.

“Human trafficking can take many forms,” said Hardeeville Police Chief Sam Woodward, who has had to deal with several recent cases because his Jasper County town is a high-traffic area along Interstate 95. “It can be labor-related, it can be sex-related, it can be minor-related. It’s taking people and forcing them to do things for money or for paperwork to get their border passes and other things. It’s all against the law, so we do the way we do in all of our investigations.”

Woodward said that for a long time, law enforcement officers did not understand human trafficking and so his department held classes to help educate officers and the community. He suggested citizens pay attention to what is happening in their neighborhood, particularly events and situations that seem unusual.

“For example, if a citizen sees people going in and out of a residence, say nine women coming in and out and getting into a van to go somewhere,” Woodward said, “that could indicate that something is wrong. do not go. »

These women could be victims of trafficking for labor or prostitution, he said.

Woodward added that all police are asking citizens to do is provide them with the information and report it – they will investigate from there. Reports can be made anonymously and police will not ask for the caller's personal information.

For more information on identifying or assisting victims, visit www.state.gov/identify-and-assist-a-trafficking-victim/

What is being done to combat human trafficking?

According to the SCAG website, “To better prevent our youth from being victimized, the task force created TraffickProofSC, the first statewide human trafficking prevention education program.”

TraffickProofSC was created in partnership with South Carolina ETV and is specifically designed for middle and high school students. The curriculum includes lesson plans that focus on sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and the use of social media. It also includes information on sextortion, a tool often used by traffickers to target victims online.

In 2023, the task force also began work on creating a specialized juvenile court for people identified as victims of human trafficking and linked the need for a new grant program to support organizations wishing to extend or develop specific services for this population.

There is also a branch of the SC Human Trafficking Task Force in each region of the Palmetto State. The Lowcountry Human Trafficking Task Force is one of nine regional task forces and serves Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

The Lowcountry Task Force is co-chaired by JoJo Woodward and Michelle Fraser and has been very active in events in the region.

In April, the local task force hosted a community resource fair and expo in Hardeeville, which featured vendors from nonprofits and government agencies, health care providers, local philanthropic groups and others with anti-trafficking initiatives.

“This is an opportunity to collaborate and coordinate in the fight against human trafficking,” said Capt. JoJo Woodward of the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office and co-chair of the task force in a recent statement. “We all want to help, and this is a great way to collaborate with each other.”

The event was timed to coincide with the end of Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

To learn more about the Lowcountry Human Trafficking Task Force, visit sclchttf.wixsite.com or email [email protected]. To learn more about upcoming Lowcountry Task Force events or meetings in our area, follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LCHTTF/

To learn more about statewide educational efforts, visit www.scag.gov/human-trafficking/awareness-prevention-education/

To learn more about this topic in general, go to

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