Authorities warn exchange students could be targets for human trafficking

Authorities warn exchange students could be targets for human trafficking

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The period from now until September is when detectives say the largest number of international, or J-1, students come to the Grand Strand.

This group is a popular target of human traffickers.

During Tuesday's Sexual Assault Response Team, or SART, meeting, law enforcement said the six-month period sees roughly 4,000 international students coming to the area. Det. Pete Woods said these individuals are such targets because they are they usually only 19 to 23 years old, and are away from home for the first time.

"They spend a huge amount of money to get here, so they are prone to make back that money and to bring that money back home because it's a life changer in some of those countries, especially the poverty-stricken countries," Woods said.

According to Woods, some of these young men and women fall into traps because of that urge to make the most money with the time they have on their visas.

"Don't fall for you're making $7 an hour, come with me you'll make $25 an hour," he said. "There is no fashion show, there is no talent show, and they still use those scams every year on the girls."

On top of that, Woods said these students don't always know they can go to the police for help. The reason is they may be from countries where law enforcement is feared.

After five years, Woods said strides are being made. Two new detectives have been added to the task force, law enforcement have ensured students won't be picked up by the wrong people at the Myrtle Beach International Airport, and more of these young people are attending meetings geared toward keeping them safe.

"Five years ago when we started, we only had 100 students," Woods said. "Last year, we had over 2,000 students."

He added the task force is striving for community policing and "for people to not be victims."

Woods said the Myrtle Beach Police Department, along with surrounding agencies, is determined to address this issue and hopes to be able to say in the future that they're making cases and arrests in large numbers.

Ashley Hoshihara Cruz, the sexual assault services coordinator for the Rape Crisis Center and SART's program administrator, said the fight against human trafficking and other forms of sexual assault comes down to education.

"Just being aware and just being educated, so the more they know about the problem, the more they can actually solve it," Cruz said. "If you don't know what human trafficking is and you don't know what the signs and symptoms are, you're never going to be able to help."

Those who know someone who could be in need of assistance can call the Rape Crisis Center 24 hours a day at (843) 448-7273.

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