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Child advocacy center identifying risk factors and supporting victims of sexual exploitation

Source: WCSC Source: WCSC
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

As the tourism season approaches, Charleston could see an increase in sex trafficking as more people come through the area. 

Workers at a local children's advocacy center say it's a crime that strikes year round and it's hard to quantify. They are working in the community to identity and support potential victims. 

Rachael Garrett is the director of education and community services at The Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center on King Street.

"It's very real, it really does happen and it's really horrible," Garrett said.

Sex trafficking and child pornography are two forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children known as CSEC.  It's when people buy, trade, or sell sexual acts with a child.

"There's probably a large group of children in this community who already are victims and quite a few more who are at risk of becoming victims," Garrett said. 

While the center has worked with victims of these crimes and other forms of abuse, it received a grant to continue training people in our community to identity victims of these crimes in addition to offering specialized services for the mental health needs of victims. 

"We do not have victims walking through our doors, they come through other ports of entry," she said.

A collaborative network including law enforcement, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Juvenile Justice and others point suspected victims to the center.

Children who come from abusive families are at higher risk. 

"We want to stop that now." Garrett said.

Center officials estimate that they'll see 100 children a year that are suspected or confirmed victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
For every one sex trafficking victim there are at least 100 other child who are victims of abuse.

 "So you have a child does not feel safe at home and they may running away to place where they feel safe or to a person whom they feel safe, but that person may actually be the person who is selling them," Garrett said

Parents can help mitigate risk factors by knowing where their child is at all times and teaching them internet safety. Children are often lured in through strangers online.

"If the worse thing does happen we are here, and there are services here in this community that can support them and lead to healing," she said.

There are some red flags that might point to a child who is involved in commercial sexual exploitation.

The center staff say it could include a child who frequently runs away or has extra money but isn't able to tell you where it came from. Another factor could be a child who is in relationship with someone older.

The center is in the process of setting a training curriculum in hopes of informing hotel staff and others in the hospitality industry how to identify sex trafficking victims. 

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