MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) - Human trafficking is often referred to as modern-day slavery, some might think it's something that only happens abroad. But United States citizens, including South Carolina citizens, are also among those trafficked. It's even found its way to the Grand Strand which is why there was a forum on human trafficking in the area Saturday.
Belin Memorial United Methodist Church was host to a symposium on human trafficking. Assistant Attorney General of South Carolina Marie Sazehn was amongst the speakers from across the state. She defines human trafficking as the "control and exploitation of other people... it can be labor trafficking or it can be sex trafficking or it can be both at the same time.
Human trafficking is an industry making billions of dollars by denying people's freedoms. Simply, it's modern-day slavery. Getting statistics has been one of the biggest challenges for the state's human trafficking task force, however Sazehn says the Grand Strand area gets most of the cases in the state by far according to the top number of calls to the Polaris National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
Doubling as the state's Human Trafficking Program Coordinator, Sazehn spoke about the activities of South Carolina's human trafficking task force which she runs. Last year, they released a state plan to identify and rehabilitate found victims. Before 2012, South Carolina's human trafficking law was given the worst rating by national nonprofit group Polaris. That year human trafficking legislation in the state was reformed and now has the highest ranking. Betty Houbion helped draft the bill which changed that and also spoke at the symposium. She applauds the state's new approach, but says there still are not enough cases being taken to court despite the resources South Carolina now has.
She told WMBF, "We need prosecution, and they have all the resources and they have all the tools right there in that law and plus some."
Sazehn says a major reason these cases take so long is that often victims of human trafficking are carried across state lines. This means the federal government often takes over. However, Sazehn says the state's first human trafficking trial is set for October. One thing both both Houbion and Sazehn can agree on is that education and awareness is a key factor in fighting human trafficking both at seminars like this and in schools which has recently started in South Carolina. Houbion says human trafficking education will bring an end to human trafficking because it takes the victim out of the picture.