State leaders consider child sex trafficking bill

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A bill moving through the South Carolina Statehouse aims to help put an end to modern day slavery.

Bill S. 541 would allow victims of child sex trafficking to get more state resources by labeling child sex trafficking as a form of child abuse.

The bill's sponsor is Sen. Katrina Shealy (R- Lexington).

As it stands, the definition of child abuse is limited to abuse inflicted by a family member or caregiver.

This bill would expand that definition outside of family members and allow child protective services to intervene in cases.

"A lot of times with trafficking cases it's not the legal guardians or primary givers who are the alleged offenders. It's somebody outside of the family, outside of the home," said Rachael Garrett with Dee Norton.

Garrett said in the Lowcountry they're seeing more cases of children being trafficked.

"We have seen an increase of the number of kids who are suspected victims of trafficking, but I think that's correlated with really starting to look for them," said Garrett attributing the higher number of cases to the exposure the crime has been receiving.

"It's only in recent years that it's really gaining attention," Garrett said. "So it's now a matter of naming it is as a form of child abuse which it is. It's a severe form of child sexual abuse."

The bill could provide services for children by the state Department of Social Services.

Garrett said it could help in additional ways.

"I think one benefit the law could potentially bring is maybe reducing some of the stigma. I think at a certain point in the course of what we've learned about this is the child may be labeled child prostitute and sometimes they've even been prosecuted for prostitution," said Garrett.

Shealy said in a statement the bill is a great step forward for South Carolina.

"I think this is a very important bill that will help these innocent victims get the services that they need regardless of whether the perpetrator was a parent, guardian, or a person without custody of the child," said a statement from Shealy.

The South Carolina State Attorney General's office said they are in full support of the bill.

The bill passed a second reading on Tuesday.

It will now need to be read a third time before moving onto the state senate for approval.

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