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      Man accused of forcing Florence girl into prostitution

      Tony Drum

      Charlotte, North Carolina police say a Florence teenager was forced into prostitution by a man she met online.

      Police say Tony Drum, 30, befriended the girl in a chat room, picked her up in South Carolina and took her back to Charlotte where he forced her into prostitution.

      Betty Houbion of Murrells Inlet, who was an advocate for South Carolina's new anti-human trafficking law, says up to 90 percent of teens are in online chat rooms today, often with people they don't know.

      Sometimes, she says those people are traffickers who know how to connect with kids.

      "They often portray themselves as younger than they are, closer to the teen's age, so they're one of them," Houbion says.

      The young man you see blending in with the crowd at the mall or outside a high school, busily texting on his smart phone or tablet could be a pimp, she says.

      Houbion recalls an interview with one sex trafficker, who told about his strategy for luring kids.

      "He said, 'I sell them dreams.' And that's exactly what these traffickers do. They're selling dreams."

      Houbion says trafficking used to involve many foreign nationals. Now, police are uncovering more Americans targeting Americans, and the age range is widening.

      "It used to be 12, 13, 14. Now, we're seeing particularly young girls, at 9, 10 up to 17 years old being lured into trafficking situations."

      Houbion says South Carolina's tough new anti-trafficking law is as good as any in the country, but the key to preventing the crime is still parental involvement.

      "They have to know how to use the tablets, the Xbox Live. They talk to their children and talk to their teens, get to know the kids that they are seeing, and if there's an unknown, get to know that and question it," she said.

      Training for law enforcement officers in the human trafficking law is now mandatory in South Carolina.

      Houbion will address the state's first-ever convention on human trafficking at Coker College in Hartsville on Friday.

      The National Human Trafficking Resource hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Trafficking victims can send a text to BEFREE (233733).