COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Progress is being made but human trafficking is increasing in our area.
Both county and state leaders gathered at a press conference Wednesday where they talked about the state of human trafficking in Richland County.
For the most part, everyone who's involved in tackling human trafficking here addressed the media earlier Wednesday afternoon.They said that the numbers are increasing and they're seeing a couple of cases a week.
And they believe that gangs have stopped selling drugs and started human trafficking young girls in our area. Richland County Sheriff's Department said that young girls around 15 years of age are targets of traffickers.
Officials called on the community to learn more about what's happening in Richland County and how residents can help. Captain Heidi Jackson works daily with this issue, and says there are several signs to pay attention to.
"If you see a sudden change in the way that they dress or the way that they are speaking, friends, or things they have especially, those are things you want to be aware of," Jackson said. "If they have an older boyfriend, you really want to check out that boyfriend very, very well. This couldn't happen to our family, it could happen to any of our families."
Jackson said the suspects usually seem like normal people and told us earlier they have several people with active warrants for their arrest. If you see anything suspicious, contact law enforcement.
The Richland County Sheriff's Department is applauding the removal of the adult escort section from Backpage.com. This is one step that will make it harder to buy and sell victims.
Law enforcement says it was responsible for nearly 80 percent of all U.S human trafficking cases.
They believe it will have a huge impact on trafficking and prostitution.
The move came just hours before a hearing scheduled by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Officials also fear, however, that traffickers will find other sources.