Local officials push for human trafficking awareness

South Carolina has one of the nation’s highest rates of human trafficking.
Monday morning, some members of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office held a press conference to address the problem at the Myrtle Beach International airport.

The Eastern Carolina Coalition against Human Trafficking led the news conference and announced making January 11th as human trafficking awareness day.
Organizers said that an area like the Grand Strand is especially vulnerable to human trafficking because it’s a tourist destination.

They said the Grand Strand attracts a lot of immigrant population, some of whom don’t speak English as their first language which works against them as a disadvantage.

Many of those immigrants are forcibly brought here illegally just to be sexually exploited.

Organizers told News 13 that most victims are women and children who cannot walk away and are held in service through force, threats and fear.

Kelly O’Niel-Bagwell, president of the organization said that the only way to put an end to this illegal activity is to bring as much awareness as possible not only to the country but also into small communities along the Grand Strand.

“In really small town sometime you don’t necessarily see it as easily because everyone knows everyone,” said Bagwell, “but in an area like this where it’s growing by leaps and bounds and we’ve got people coming and going from this area all the time, how many times have we heard about criminals who come to this area to hide out? Because it’s so easy you can come to this area and you can disappear.”

Kyle Diorio a Coastal Carolina University art student said that he’s doing his part to bring awareness of the crime by designing an image of a sex trafficking victim.

The image shows one side of the picture depicting a slave woman while the other half shows a young girl.

“You can be meeting someone and talking with them and they could be you know involved in human trafficking and you wouldn’t even know,“ said Diorio, “It goes on every day, behind closed doors, every face tells a story and every person you meet every day you don’t know their story especially in a tourist area like Myrtle Beach.“

“We’ve got a large immigrant population, we’ve got escort services, we’ve got strip bars, we’ve got hotels, I mean you look at all the earmarks of human trafficking and we’ve got it in spades in this area,” said Bagwell.

Lt. Buddy Wilkes with SLED said that this type of crime goes unnoticed fairly often because it is under reported.

“If holding somebody in human bondage is not a violent crime I don’t know what is,” said Wilkes.

Members of the coalition said that I-95 a major access into the state makes it even easier for smugglers to transport victims such as women and children for sexual exploitation.

“The victims of these types of crimes are folks who just can’t take up for themselves it’s almost like their will to resist has been over come by their situation,“ Wilkes said.

Wilkes said the division is focusing on this type of violent crime by requiring their officers to take a mandatory course on human trafficking as part of their training.

The coalition plans to hold a meeting on the issue this Thursday at the Socastee Library from 5 to 7pm.

source: http://www2.scnow.com/scp/news/local/grand_strand/article/local_officials_push_for_human_trafficking_awareness/96887/

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