MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Over 4,000 international students work in the Myrtle Beach area during the summer, but this same group is also heavily preyed upon. Myrtle Beach Police officers are trying to keep them safe.
"We were able to effectively reduce robberies of these people by 58%," said Officer Pete Woods. Officer Woods says the initiative to reach out to foreign students gained momentum two years ago after a string of robberies along 21st Avenue North.
"We interviewed the suspect," he said. "He was specifically targeting international students because they would eventually leave the country."
The program's beginning focus was curbing violent crime against international students, but now the program is expanding. Police are working with outreach groups, churches and human trafficking groups help these students.
"It's a very real issue," said Chris Ward, youth pastor at Seacoast Vineyard Church. "There's instances of forced labor where students are brought in, papers held, wages split unfairly."
Police officers are emphasizing the importance of community vigilance, while outreach groups look for volunteers to help keep students safe.
"We've been asked for transportation, that's the key thing," said human trafficking advocate Betty Houbion. "Let's make sure these kids are housed well. We wouldn't want any of our kids crammed ten or twelve into one apartment."