HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office released the 2019 Human Trafficking Task Force’s report on Friday.
The report identified Horry County as the top county in the state for reports of human trafficking. Greenville, Richland, Dorchester and Charleston counties also ranked in the top five.
Last year, Horry County was ranked second in the state.
The latest data reveals 700 people were human trafficking victims, an increase of 360 percent from the previous year, according to the state report.
In addition to victims, the number of cases throughout the state rose by 29.
“The large increase in victims recorded speaks to efforts across the state to raise awareness of the National Human Trafficking Hotline number so victims know how to reach out for help,” said Attorney General Alan Wilson in a statement Friday. “We also recognize that the regional task forces are better educating members of their communities on the issue, which in turn causes shifts in the top five counties each year.”
The state’s Human Trafficking Task Force will work to combat the increase in cases in 2020 by hosting a roundtable discussion, create more informational materials and give out the National Human Trafficking Hotline number to potential victims.
There are 68 human trafficking cases pending in South Carolina as of Dec. 15, 2019. Most of those cases, 73%, stem from Aiken County. Nearly 8% of the statewide cases are from Florence County and 5% in Horry County.
Most of the disposed cases, 35%, led to federal charges.
Sex trafficking was the majority of the human trafficking cases reported in the state. Labor and ‘other’ trafficking accounted for 43 reported cases.
The state identifies escort services and illicit massage parlors as top trafficking venues. Approximately 77% of the time, the employer is the one exploiting the victim.
The Coastal Region Human Trafficking Task Force met Thursday to work on expanding awareness in 2020.
The local group hopes to expand partnerships with Georgetown County and continue educating and training educators, nurses, officers and community members on common signs.
"It’s not something that is in your face, it’s not right out there. It takes so many people in our community to see and root out this problem,” said task force member Bill Croteau.
In the past year, the group has placed awareness posters throughout restaurants, hotels, and schools, hosted speakers and organized presentations for the public.
“Every time we turn the light on for one more person we potentially prevent another situation that we may have never known was going to exist and that’s the hopefulness of this situation,” Croteau said. “If we build the right relationships, we can prevent these things from being law enforcement challenges because they never come about to begin with.”
Wilson also announced new partnerships on Friday with the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (SCRLA) and the South Carolina Beer Wholesalers Association (SCBWA). The partnerships aim to increase awareness within the hospitality and beer wholesale industries by placing signs on delivery trucks.
In 2020, the state also plans on increasing attention on labor trafficking, working with the faith community and protecting survivors from revictimization.
The Human Trafficking National Hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.