MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A task force made up of law enforcement from around the Grand Strand is working together to battle the problem of human trafficking and bring awareness to it.
Human trafficking is defined as the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation.
Officials say it’s happening around us every single day, and even in our school systems.
“One of the most important things we need to rectify is there are children in elementary, middle and high school who are victims of human trafficking,” Patty Jackson, the co-chair of the Coastal Region Human Trafficking Task Force, said.
“The statistic that 41% of the victims between the ages of 12-18 are being trafficked by family members is probably one of the most troubling parts about the topic that I have learned,” Laura Tucker, the lead nurse for Georgetown County School District, said.
Jackson said many states have a curriculum in the schools that educates students about human trafficking, but South Carolina is not one of those states.
The lack of this education led the Horry County Sheriff’s Office to implement a program at St. James High School called “Stay or Go” that aims to make staff more aware.
“It gives them different scenarios that will happen that they may see or may have heard their student talk about and they will think ‘That may be happening.’ They will then think, ‘Who do we call? How do we help them?’ Or they could be trafficked right under your nose and you not know it,” Horry County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Sherri Smith said.
The Georgetown School District is hoping to start a similar program by the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. Until then, nurses, coaches, guidance counselors and teachers are being taught new lessons and signs to look for that could show that something more could be going on at home.
“What we are learning now are things like the tattoos, reluctant behavior, probably multiple absences out of school, maybe they’re sick or malnourished,” Tucker said.
“You’ll see a slow decline in their school work, in their personal hygiene and how they’re interacting with their friends,” Smith said. “So if you have someone who is outgoing and social and then you see a 180 then there might be a problem.”
The Horry County Sheriff’s Office is hoping to expand the Stay or Go program to other schools and said if any teachers, students or parents are interested in this to contact Lt. Sherri Smith at 843-915-5450.