South Carolina is both a source and destination and a pass-through state for human trafficking. Some people believe that human trafficking, or "modern-day slavery," does not exist. We know it does, and it is happening here in South Carolina. Brittanee Drexel disappeared at this time last year. She was last seen on a video as she left her hotel on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach. Her mother stated in recent news reports that she believes Brittanee has been trafficked or is being held against her will. Recently, we learned about a convicted felon arrested for the trafficking of a 16-year-old S.C. girl and transporting her to Georgia for the purpose of prostitution. In March, we read about a man now charged on two slavery-related charges and pending charges, including forced farm labor and pornography of a 15-year-old Guatemalan girl in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
Human trafficking must end. South Carolina can make that happen. It was among the first states to pass a law against human trafficking. It is time to strengthen that law. Bill 4202, submitted to the House by Rep. Harold Mitchell, is now being read in the Senate. This bill would increase the penalty of imprisonment for convicted traffickers to a maximum of 30 years. Bill 4522, submitted by Rep. Nelson Hardwick, is still in the House Judiciary Committee. This bill includes asset forfeiture to offset costs for investigation, training and victim services. This amount can be considerable.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing businesses worldwide. It is up there with drug and arms trade, at $31 billion annually in profits. In 2008, traffickers were ordered to pay restitution awards totaling approximately $4.2 million.
With an estimated 14,000 to 17,500 children, men and women trafficked annually in the United States, asset forfeiture would provide the funding required to drive a stake into the heart of trafficking. Dry up the money, convict traffickers consistently, and restore and reintegrate victims: South Carolina would be a leader in ending this horrific crime against freedom and humanity once and for all.
Given visionary legislators as Hardwick and Mitchell, and their more than 30 colleagues sponsoring Bill 4522, and human trafficking connections that have been made in local missing persons cases such as the Brittanee Drexel case, and with member law enforcement and social service organizations of the Eastern Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking, we urge you to contact your elected representatives to support this groundbreaking and crucial legislation.
We at ECCAHT know you care about these horrors as much as we do. Please, contact your representative today and urge her or him to support House Bill 4522.
Of course, if you suspect you have encountered a human-trafficking situation or victim, immediately call the toll-free hot line number: 1-888-3737-888. Be a voice for those hidden beneath the surface.
The writer, vice president of ECCAHT, lives in Murrells Inlet.