House unanimously passes human trafficking law - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

House unanimously passes human trafficking law

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WIS) - Human trafficking investigators say Myrtle Beach is one of the hot  spots for human sex trafficking in South Carolina.

Now, an Horry County lawmaker has done something about it.  He's helped push the state's first human trafficking bill one step closer to becoming law.

With more than 14 million visitors each year, investigators say human traffickers find easy places for victims to blend right in.

Myrtle Beach is a favorite spot, but it's not the only spot.

In 2007, the state's first human sex trafficking bust occurred in a trailer park near Columbia.

A 14-year-old girl reported as a runaway by her parents in Mexico ended up being kidnapped and sold to a midlands human trafficking ring.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Ken Burkhart rescued the girl.

"I told my agents we're going to treat this little girl like she was our own daughter," said Burkhart, "And we're going to hunt this little girl down and get her out of this trailer."

For days agents watched, then decided to move in.  Burkhart knocked and the girl he'd been searching for answered the door.

"I told her we'd been in touch with her sister and I shook her hand and I just gently led her right out the door," said Burkhart.

One saved. But investigators say there are thousands more right here in South Carolina.

"I just don't know I could live and not do all I need to do and help some parent, or some person that's caught up in this to find a way out," said Horry County Representative Nelson Hardwick.

Four years ago Hardwick introduced a bill to give state and local law enforcement the power to prosecute and investigate trafficking cases.

Many times, what police think are classic prostitution cases, investigators say are just the symptoms of a much more sinister crime.

Thursday, after four years of pushing, the House passed Hardwick's bill.

"You don't just victimize the person," said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.  "You victimize the family, everyone who knows the person and you victimize the community."

 Wilson helped with the bill. He says human sex trafficking is growing in South Carolina and he will use the state Grand Jury to investigate the organized crime rings that set up shop and pimp victims here.

Hardwick has a message for the Senate, who could determine whether the bill becomes law:

"Pay attention," said Hardwick. "It's an opportunity to get something done this year and every day that goes by that we don't do something about it, some other person gets caught up in it and trapped. And it could be somebody you know and love."

The bill passed the House Thursday by a vote of 95-0.  It now moves over to the Senate for debate next week.

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