Task force is a good step, but human trafficking is a problem we must quickly address

By The Myrtle Beach Sun News Editorial Board

Human trafficking, an international, multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise, is the 21st century version of slavery and it has victims on the Grand Strand as surely as enslaved Africans worked Georgetown County rice plantations 200 years ago.

Recently, the Myrtle Beach Police Department, in a collaborative effort with three offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, concluded a human trafficking investigation in which a victim was forced to be a prostitute in multiple cities including Myrtle Beach. A North Carolina man was identified and arrested on charges of human trafficking, kidnapping and assault. Dequan Jonquil Blakeney was extradited and is currently incarcerated at J. Reuben Long Detention Center.

Eighteenth century slavery was much more obvious as they were brought to ports such as Charleston and sold as property in open markets. Today, the evil of human trafficking is an underground crime. Victims are men, women, boys and girls. Area cases of human trafficking typically involve sexual exploitation (prostitution) but some U.S. victims are domestic servants. In other places globally, men and boys are forced to work without compensation.

Human trafficking is difficult to understand, “hard to get your head around,” said Patty Jackson of Georgetown. She is a volunteer and chairwoman of the reorganized Coastal Region Human Trafficking Task Force, part of the state effort directed by Kathryn A. Moorehead of the Office of the Attorney General.

Jackson is the retired director of the Waccamaw Regional Education Center, a business-education effort. The regional task force was relaunched July 26. A dozen subcommittees are working and a strategic plan developed. “There has been such an outpouring of energy,” Jackson said. More than 50 people, including working and retired professionals from law enforcement, law and health services attended the meeting.

A follow-up will be held Sept. 13 from 10 a.m. to noon in the main courtroom at the Ted. C. Collins Law Enforcement Center, 1101 Oak St., Myrtle Beach. “People who want to be involved” are invited to participate.

The S.C. Human Trafficking Task Force was set up in 2012 to establish a multi-disciplinary regional coalition and increase public awareness to prevent and expose human trafficking. “Not yet is everyone trained” in identifying potential human trafficking situations, Jackson said, speaking of professionals, including health care providers and law enforcement officers. General public awareness also is needed. This includes recognizing signs and signals, such as someone being controlled or manipulated by another person. Anyone seeing such a situation, if able to speak with the victim, might ask “Are you in trouble?” or “Do you need help?”

Reporting to law enforcement possible human trafficking situations are similar to letting someone in authority know about strange or unusual behavior in your neighborhood: It’s best to report it and let the authorities check it out.

More information

National Human Trafficking hotline | 1-888-373-7888

Online | humantrafficking.scag.gov