CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Tri-County Human Trafficking Task Force gathered Thursday at the Charleston County Government building to hear about new research collected over the past three years about human trafficking, specifically in the Lowcountry.
Established in 2018, the Tri-County Human Trafficking Task Force is working to bring people of different backgrounds together in response to the issue.
Citadel’s Criminal Justice Professors and task force Chairs of Research and Data Subcommittee, Kristen Hefner and Leslie Hill, presented new data on human trafficking in the area.
“Due to the hidden nature of these crimes, it’s important to triangulate the data and pull it from as many places as possible to help get a clear picture of human trafficking in our area,” Hill said.
Between 2015-2020, the National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded 102 victims of trafficking in Charleston, 31 in Dorchester and five in Berkeley.
From Hefner and Hill’s research into law enforcement data, 25 individual cases of human trafficking arrests or calls for service were recorded from 2016 until now. The calls and cases are handled by the North Charleston Police Department, Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, Summerville Police Department and Charleston Police Department.
The same data reflects the premise type being hotels 40% of the time and residents making up 16%. The cases were discovered by patrol officers 44% and service providers 12%.
Out of the victims, 100% were females between the ages of 13-36 and were recorded as 25% Caucasian and 28% African American. The suspects were 78% male between the ages of 16-61 and were recorded as 44% Caucasian and 56% African American.
“It’s common for traffickers to force their victims to commit crimes,” Hefner said. “For example, we see all the time that sex trafficking victims are arrested for prostitution. It’s important that we identify victims.”
The task force is organized into eight subcommittees: education, law enforcement, legal innovations, child direct services, adult direct services, healthcare, faith-based and research. Each one of these subcommittees works to employ a different facet of the community in response to human trafficking, according to the task force’s website.
Tri-County Human Trafficking Task Force Co-Chairs, Lauren Knapp and Brooke Burris, have both worked together since 2018 in hopes of making a strong task force.
“I like to think a lot of our success is because we are talking to survivors to help our decision making and the subcommittees to make sure that we are effectively hitting the mark,” Knapp said “In crime tactics and techniques, they change all the time. The bad side of it is that we are big and clunky on this side, and we can’t pivot and evolve. I credit a lot of our suppliers for helping guide us as a group to help state and locally.”
The task force works with the Formation Project, which saw a need to help adult survivors in the Lowcountry as there were no services for adult survivors of trafficking, according to the Formation Project’s website.
“Financial help, legal help, even the emotional and communal help that is provided by the Formation Project gives victims both a sense of safety to go throughout their lives free of fear, which is new for them, but also resources to stay out of those situations,” Hefner said. “They have all communicated that if it was not for the services and resources from the Formation Project, they would have no choice to go back to the situations they left simply for survival.”
The task force is continuing to build more connections by training law enforcement agencies and the public on how to identify human trafficking in the first place.
Their next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28.
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