The students at the orange-draped tables on Prince Lawn at Coastal Carolina University on Thursday sought to educate people about human trafficking through pamphlets, brochures and conversations. In the process, they also learned how to stage an event.
“Many of my students are planning to go into public relations,” said Deb Breede, the students’ professor in their communications activism course, “so I’m hoping this is a real-world experience on how to put on an event.”
Breede is a founder and former board member of Eastern Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking, but students said that was only part of the reason they chose the issue as the vehicle for their event.
Senior Kelsey Dusenbery, a communications major, said Breede’s class is the first time she had ever been exposed to human trafficking.
“I didn’t think it happened here,” she said. “I thought it happened in other countries.”
Dusenbery, who hopes to get a job in outside sales when she graduates, and others in the class heard presentations by representatives espousing a number of causes and issues. They weighed what they heard and decided on human trafficking because it is something that affects the Grand Strand as the recipient of and the origin of people who are trafficked.
The students opinions of how prevalent trafficking is here ranged from “very” to “more than you might think.”
Christopher Garrett, a special agent in the FBI’s Columbia office, said the latter definition is a fair analysis of human trafficking in South Carolina. Cases that come to the bureau’s attention in South Carolina are very rare, he said, but that doesn’t mean that trafficking isn’t taking place.
Garrett said an area like the Grand Strand would be a more likely destination for people who are trafficked than Florence, because it is a resort community and has a transient population. He said that people trafficked here from other countries may be reluctant to alert authorities because they have a fear of police.
That is one reason it takes the FBI an average of 857 days to investigate a single case of human trafficking.
Garrett said trafficking happens in areas such as the Grand Strand because foreigners can be lured here with promises of good-paying jobs and oceanfront accommodations. When those promises don’t materialize, and those who’ve made the journey are forced into low-paying jobs and substandard housing just to survive.
Allison Herron, another student at the CCU event who plans to go into public relations, said students have been told of two women students whose drinks were drugged at an area nightclub and were then taken from the bar to a boat on the Intracoastal Waterway. It was only when they felt the boat rock that they became aware of what might be happening and jumped off and swam ashore.
She said the students didn’t report the incident to police because they were underage and had been drinking.
“A lot of the times the victims won’t testify,” Breede said.
Breede said between 10 and 20 people have told her they’ve been victimized in the eight years she has been at Coastal, but she can’t say that all, or any of them, were cases of trafficking.
Garrett said the FBI works with the Eastern Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking and other advocacy groups across the state to help it identify possible cases of human trafficking. The groups are in the communities and have access to information in ways the federal agents can’t.
He said people who suspect they know of human trafficking should call the Bureau’s Columbia office at 803-551-4200. People who think they are victims of trafficking should call local authorities at 911, he said.
“Obviously, we would be open to any tips, any information people might have,” Garrett said.
Perhaps a tip will come from someone who stopped by the orange-draped tables on Prince Lawn.
Breede said the students in her class not only decided on the cause to highlight with the event, but they then got printed information to distribute, the tables spread on the lawn, flyers to advertise it, a radio station to play music to attract students to the event, press releases, a Facebook page and a video on You Tube.
Cassidy Efird, the student who came up with the name Stand for Something as a banner for the event, said she hopes to be a television sports reporter when she graduates. Her work on the event, she said, taught her “that you have to be knowledgeable about what you do.”