Report: South Carolina most improved in combatting human trafficking

    The Myrtle Beach SkyWheel was glowing blue in support of human trafficking awareness Friday. (Taggart Houck/WPDE) <p>{/p}

    State leaders announced major steps in progress for human trafficking awareness advocates, Friday.

    The Attorney General’s Office outlined a report from Shared Hope International, which said South Carolina is the most improved state in the entire country in combatting human trafficking.

    “Everybody’s learned a lot and to see it come to some fruition is just highly rewarding,” said Betty Houbion, a longtime advocate for awareness and change in combatting human trafficking.

    Houbion worked with State Rep. Russell Fry to author legislation on a law known as Safe Harbor, which improves protection for minors affected by human trafficking.

    “We’ve got to be on the forefront in making sure that we have all the resources available and necessary to crack down on this, because it’s everywhere,” he said in his office Friday. “It’s nationwide and we want to set a very clear message that we’re not gonna tolerate that in South Carolina.”

    The Human Trafficking Task Force includes members of Horry County Police and Sheriff’s departments. The report said Horry County accounts for 10 percent of cases statewide.

    Chief Deputy Tom Fox with the Horry County Sheriff’s Office has three officers on the task force. He said part of what’s helped in their mission is awareness and funding, but even the state report admits, there should be room for more funds.

    Fox said the classification of human trafficking can sometimes be a factor for the funding agencies can allocate for their projects using federal dollars.

    “Several years ago, you had pumps and prostitutes where they forced (people) into labor and had controlling factors over them and now it’s been identified as human trafficking cause that’s what they’re doing,” said Fox.

    He said his officers are trained to look for warning signs for trafficking victims. Essentially, disconnection from lack of family and friends and even lack of eye contact.

    “Awareness is the most important part to identify,” he said.

    Houbion said Friday called for celebration, but there’s a long way to go.

    “It’s a crime against humanity, it’s a breach of freedom and we need to keep that in mind everywhere. So, what do we want? Prevention education, so we don’t have to find another victims of human trafficking,” she said.

    Fox said there will be a training session for local, state and federal officers at J. Reuben Long Detention Center February 11-13. The purpose of the training is to help identify warning signs from victims of human trafficking.

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