BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Human trafficking is an issue that’s happening all over the country and in South Carolina.
That’s why local law enforcement agencies are educating their officers on identifying the signs of trafficking.
The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with the Tri-County Human Trafficking Task Force to receive training for the first time.
“The goal is to have that awareness, getting it out there so one we can identify these things and get help for the victim,” BCSO Capt. Bobby Shuler said. “The other goal is to make the arrest and help the solicitor’s office prosecute these cases, so we can put these people away.”
Members of the task force, a former FBI agent, and trafficking survivors all spoke during the training.
Topics included the sheriff’s office protocols when it came to dealing with these issues, as well as how officers can identify “red flags” when it comes to human trafficking.
Parts of the Lowcountry have been hot spots for human trafficking, according to the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office’s Human Trafficking Task Force 2019 Annual report.
Officials say there was a 360% increase in the total number of trafficking victims recorded in the state as well as an increase in the number of human trafficking cases reported.
Kat Wehunt, who is part of the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force, believes the increase is due to efforts to identify these cases.
"It is because people are getting trained and they know what to look for, we're seeing the thing that we never saw," Wehunt said. "I think those numbers will pan out hopefully within the next couple of years when we have the full state trained and equipped."
Law enforcement officers received information from people who have dealt with the issue first-hand. Lindsey Hass is on the survivor advisory board for the Tri-County Human Trafficking Task Force. Both Hass and Wehunt are survivors of sex-trafficking.
" I wish that law enforcement when I was growing up knew about it and knew some of the signs, and maybe I would have never gone through some of the things that I went through," Hass said.
The survivors gave law enforcement officers tips on how to deal with other survivors. They say officers should build trust with victims and listen.
"A lot of people have misconceptions when it comes to trafficking. They get trafficking and smuggling confused," Wehunt said. "The only way you're gonna know what's happening is to ask the people who went through it."
If you know of anyone who may be a victim of human trafficking or suspect trafficking activity, you can call the national human trafficking hotline (888) 373-7888.