Crime & Courts

The Grim Reality Of Human Trafficking In South Carolina

Fewer cases, more victims … and a disturbing rise in missing children.

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Newly published numbers from the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force — an organization chaired by S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson — indicate that human trafficking events are climbing despite a “multi-disciplinary” approach to the issue.

Last Thursday (January 11, 2024), task force leaders including local, state and federal law enforcement agencies gathered at the S.C. State House for an annual press conference detailing their regional efforts aimed at combatting human slavery within the previous year.

The multiplexed operation — mandated by a 2012 law — consists of approximately 1,100 individuals, 12 subcommittees, 11 mandated agencies, 10 regional task forces, two non-governmental organizations and a survivors advocacy committee.

“It’s human trafficking awareness month,” tweeted Wilson before Thursday’s press conference. “In most cases, this horrific crime happens on Main Street USA … victims are groomed and trafficked every day by people they already know. It’s up to us to fight back.”

In 2022, the task force received $1.7 million from the S.C. General Assembly to curtail human trafficking in-state. Of their many initiatives, the recurring funds afforded them a partnership with S.C. Educational Television (SCETV) and the creation of TraffickProofSC.

As for the task force’s actual impact on human trafficking? The latest numbers speak for themselves and — evidently — require “significant funding” this legislative session.

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BULLISH TRENDS …

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In one year’s time, the number of in-state human trafficking victims increased by 19 percent amid caseloads declining by a comparable percentage, according to recent data from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

Per Wilson, SLED’s Human Trafficking Unit opened 357 cases involving human trafficking in 2023, down from 440 cases in 2022. While total case numbers were down, the ones reported involved 460 minor victims and 38 adult victims, up from 399 minor victims and 17 adult victims in 2022.

Moreover, human trafficking cases were reported in 40 out of 46 counties in 2023, up — by all accounts — from an indefinite number of reporting counties in 2022. This uptick is supposedly thanks to a “successful” awareness and outreach campaign, according to the task force.

In 2023, human trafficking cases were most frequently identified in Richland (43), Greenville (34), Horry and Aiken (24 each), Berkeley (23), Charleston, Spartanburg and Lexington (21 each) and Dorchester (18). The data furthermore indicated that 79 percent of total victims were female minors.

As for prosecuting these crimes? One defendant — Jason Roger ‘DJ Kidd’ Pope — pleaded guilty to five counts of human trafficking after four years of litigation in Florence County. At the close of last year, 21 additional defendants received a total of 46 charges for labor and sex trafficking crimes across South Carolina.

Unmentioned during last week’s press conference was a 31 percent increase in missing children last year — and a 61 percent increase since the task force was formed in 2012. This, according to state statistics from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

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THE ROAD AHEAD …

In 2024, the task force hopes to develop a podcast, increase emphasis on gang-facilitated trafficking, bring awareness to human trafficking in airports and simplify ways to report suspected trafficking events in-state.

“We intend to increase the number of shelters available to child human trafficking victims,” announced Wilson during Thursday’s press conference. “There’s only one facility in the state. We need to open up shelters around the state. These shelters will provide much needed safety and care, and provide services to both the children and their families.”

According to Wilson, the task force is seeking $10 million from the S.C. General Assembly to finance these shelters.

“We’re going to eliminate human trafficking,” concluded Wilson on Thursday. “And to the traffickers out there? The people exploiting human beings for profit? Look up here. There’s an army who’s coming for you.”

While there is no official estimate for the total number of human trafficking victims in South Carolina or the United States, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) suspects that 99.96 percent of human trafficking goes undetected internationally.

To report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733 (BeFree). In case of an emergency, please call 9-1-1.

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THE ANNUAL REPORT …

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THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY …

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Andrew Fancher (Travis Bell)

Andrew Fancher is a Lone Star Emmy award-winning journalist from Dallas, Texas. Cut from a bloodline of outlaws and lawmen alike, he was the first of his family to graduate college which was accomplished with honors. Got a story idea or news tip for Andy? Email him directly and connect with him socially across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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6 comments

Jeff Mattox Top fan January 15, 2024 at 2:00 pm

Let me get this straight, Alan has a massive task force and a $1.5 million budget and hasn’t done much to “end” human trafficking but if he can get $10 million a year he can end it? Sounds a lot like the drug war where mo money does nothing except grow government.
Same with screwalls where failure is always rewarded with mo money.
Alan is more full of crap than his father Joe “you lie” Wilson.

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Mo' Money, Mo' Problems January 16, 2024 at 8:36 am

Human trafficking is a pretty serious issue and having adequate funding helps to lead to major busts, but this is also a program for which there is “never enough” funding. Eventually there’s a steep decline in the amount of additional people saved and a steep increase in the number of friends-of-friends living in half million dollar homes and six figure pick up trucks.

Unfortunately it’s the human condition. Goes for public/private school administration, C-suite empty suits, pastors of megachurches, etc. Politicians just know how to speedrun it.

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I'm Here To Help January 15, 2024 at 7:16 pm

Jeff, that is exactly what this is! They needed a new crisis-du jour so they can bleed the taxpayers even more and now they have a rebuttal, albeit a manufactured one, whenever anyone says something about prostitution being a victimless crime. Our friends at GovCo are becoming quite creative in creating new industries with which to not only bleed the taxpayer, but make more people into criminals. Like the DUI industry, the CDV industry, the victim advocacy industry, and the war-on-drugs industry; the human trafficking industry will feed the court and prison industries to make sure they can only expand in scope and size, never shrink.

Ain’t government wonderful?!

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JustCallMeAva Top fan January 16, 2024 at 9:50 am

Let’s be honest here. Most trafficking victims are either black, Hispanic, or poor whites, none of which the GOP cares one iota about. Witness our Governor’s refusal to allow a summer feeding program that would not use one cent of state funds, just federal funds–in lock step, all the GOP Governors also refused the funding. You know how they hate to “expand government” unless it’s to give welfare to billionaires and the rest of the 1%. Then, they are all for corporate welfare. The hypocrisy of the GOP never ends. You know–they are the “anti-crime” party unless it’s to nominate a presidential candidate who has been indicted more times than most of their base can count. And they’re all “Christians” as witnessed by the Texas incident in which the governor’s orders were to obstruct federal border agents from saving a woman and her two children from drowning. Now circle back to my 2nd line here. In the GOP faux-christianity party, only affluent whites count. Trump is not the GOP’s savior, but they sure treat him like one. If these fake Christians actually read their Bibles, they’d realize he’s been a test and they have failed miserably–he’s the literal embodiment of what their (unread) Bibles warn them about. It’s sad to see this nation sinking farther and farther into a Christian theocracy, or what’s worst, Christian Fascism, but that is where the US is heading. Faux “News” warns them about “socialism” but they sure love ’em some fascism.

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Don't Breed Em Iffin You Can't Feed Em January 16, 2024 at 7:46 pm

Why do people like Kristian Kiel pump out so many kids when they lack the wherewithal to feed them? It is not the taxpayers’ job to feed your brood.

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CongareeCatfish Top fan January 16, 2024 at 10:25 am

From 2012 to 2023, the official population of South Carolina increased by 14 percent. So based on the official numbers, the net increase of trafficking on a per capita basis (which is the best manner to evaluate almost any metric of societal issues) is 5%. HOWEVER, that “official” number doesn’t do a good job of capturing the effects of the inflow of illegal immigration – that is a constantly moving target. Could it be enough to make the net 5% increase in human trafficking such that there has been statistically no meaningful change since 2012? I think it’s certainly possible. The Mexican cartels are probably the largest human trafficking industry in the world – literally a multi-billion dollar industry. Until that issue gets under control (and it probably won’t because no politician has the guts to enforce the letter of the law and engage in the enormous mass deportation needed to stem the tide), southern states allocating a few million dollars isn’t going to do very much. Wilson shouldn’t be thrown under the bus for this – the problem has roots that go far beyond his jurisdiction.

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