COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Attorney General Alan Wilson released the 2018 Human Trafficking report on Jan. 11- National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. 13 people were charged and 64 cases were closed in South Carolina in 2018, Wilson said.
According to the report, Richland County is now the number one county for reported human trafficking cases in the state.
Columbia is more susceptible to trafficking efforts due to its position between Atlanta and Charlotte, two of the biggest trafficking hubs in the nation. But SC was awarded the most improved state last year when it comes to combating the issue, according to Shared Hope International.
“Since 2012, we’ve gone from one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to combating human trafficking and laws that support that effort, to the best in 2018,” Wilson said.
The SC Human Trafficking Task Force has grown over the last several years from 11 members to more than 300. “I can’t be more proud of how far we’ve come in the past six years," Wilson said.
The task force reports the number one venue for trafficking is illicit massage parlors. They say employees and intimate partners are the two biggest offenders.
Human trafficking is viewed as a three-prong business model: the trafficker, the solicitor and the victim. The majority of victims are female, but males are also being involved, according to the report.
“Anybody can be a human trafficker, anybody can be a victim,” Wilson said. "Everybody here has got to be part of the solution.”
Officials said the majority of cases involve sex trafficking, but some cases focus on labor trafficking.
The SC annual Human Trafficking report details a lack of funding to support services for victims and survivors. A lot of the resources involved in combating human trafficking require funding, which will be addressed in the upcoming legislative session.
Non-profit Lighthouse For Life is dedicated to educating the public on the realities of sex trafficking. For the last four years, it has been working toward opening Karis Home, a safe house for survivors of human trafficking.
“It’s a long-term restorative care home that has wrap around services including our very own school accreditation and children can live there as long as DSS will allow,” Lighthouse For Life CEO Jen Thompson said.
The home will open sometime in 2019, after additional counselors are hired. It will be able to house three survivors at a time and Thompson said the family-style model will prevent the urge for survivors to run away.
“The idea is to provide a stable environment with consistent care and to allow them to learn the difference between privacy and secrecy, health boundaries and being able to make choices for themselves and engage in their education,” Thompson said.
The home will be open to victims ages 12 to 24. The only other safe house in the state to offer a refuge for victims in that age group is in Charleston.
“We’ve come so far from where we were ten years ago, especially when it comes to judgement of those victims,” Thompson said. “But we still have progress to be made.”
Looking to the future, AG Wilson is seeking funding for training resources and more comprehensive data collection.