Task force aims to expand partnerships, awareness to combat human trafficking

Updated: Jan. 9, 2020 at 7:24 PM EST
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GEORGETOWN, S.C. (WMBF) - Communities leaders met Thursday in Georgetown to discuss ways to expand human trafficking prevention efforts in the county.

The South Carolina Coastal Region Task Force on Human Trafficking began actively addressing the issue just two years ago. The task force works to combat human trafficking through various subcommittees ranging from education to healthcare to law enforcement.

“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.”

Croteau said their biggest tool is awareness.

The group’s efforts so far have been focused in Horry County but members hope to partner with Georgetown County this year.

The county sits between Horry and Charleston counties, which are both ranked among the top in the state for human trafficking cases in the state’s 2018 report.

“Georgetown is a crucial partner for us and we so often think of Myrtle Beach because that’s the destination but our neighbors who live here in Georgetown, it’s in the transition path,” Croteau said.

Georgetown Police Chief Kelvin Waites spoke on Thursday and said just because Georgetown County doesn’t have a high number of cases doesn’t mean it’s not an issue in the community.

“It’s happening all around us and that’s why it’s so important to get educated and look below the surface, so as a community we must increase our efforts by becoming more educated and proactive,” Waites said.

During his speech, he stressed that everyone needs to get better at looking below the surface.

He explained victims don’t often ask for help due to fear or embarrassment. Waites said human trafficking can sometimes disguise itself in unexplained injuries, school absences or isolated behavior.

“Oftentimes the signs and signals tend to be about manipulation and coercion. The key with human trafficking is it happens through force, fraud and coercion so a lot of times it’s easy to think about sex trafficking, but in respect to labor trafficking, we have people who get into situations where the work situation is different than what they expected it to be. The compensation isn’t what they hoped it would be,” Crouteau said.

Waites encourages anyone who sees something to say something.

“A lot of times people feel like they are bothering law enforcement when they call us with things like that, but that’s what we are here for. So if people just become more aware and call us, it sounds cliché at times, but if you see something say something, just let us know so we can look deeper into it,” Waites said.

January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Myrtle Beach plans to illuminate the Sky Wheel Blue on Saturday in honor of the day.

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