Book about human trafficking sparks Berkeley Co. parent debate

This debate started when a book was assigned to an English II course at one of the high schools, according to district officials.
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 5:09 PM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2023 at 6:58 PM EDT
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BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Some Berkeley County School District parents say students should not be reading about topics of human trafficking and rape without parent permission.

This debate started when a book was assigned to an English II course at one of the high schools, according to district officials.

The book “Sold” by Patricia McCormick tells the story of a young girl from Nepal that was sold into the sex slavery industry in India. Something that most people agree on that have read the book was that it was a tough story to read with disturbing detail.

However, it’s not short of controversy.

“I think it’s not the fact that they’re discussing human trafficking, but the material that was presented to ninth graders,” Christi Dixon, Berkeley County chapter chair for Moms for Liberty, said.

Moms For Liberty is a parents’ rights activist group that believes books like “Sold” do not have age-appropriate content for minors.

“I believe that the graphic, sexual content really has no place in the schools,” Dixon said.

She says reading about a young girl getting human trafficked and raped in school does not follow South Carolina law, which says it is unlawful for anyone to knowingly distribute obscenity.

“There could possibly be someone in that class that had quietly suffered through this trauma,” Dixon said. “...And having this assigned to them, it could retraumatize this young woman.”

However, school district parent Melissa Soule thinks otherwise.

“Books allow you to feel like you’re not alone,” Soule said. “When you read experiences that are similar to yours, then all of the sudden you’re like, ‘Well, I’m not the only one that this has happened to.’”

Others, like activist Paul Bowers that work closely with anti-book banning groups like Freedom to Read S.C., say this book tells the story about real-life events that need attention.

“Something that was hard to read emotionally, especially as a parent, but something I think that is a vital witness to something that really happens in our world,” Bowers said.

He says this kind of content causes readers to become more educated and empathetic, making them better critical thinkers.

“Hiding these sorts of books from students for fear of traumatizing them does more harm than good,” Bowers said.

Dixon believes that teachers should ask for parent permission before this book is assigned.

“I don’t think that exposing young minds to graphic depictions of rapes, sexual assaults and beatings of a minor child really has any literary value,” Dixon said.

Although, with neighboring Charleston County ranked second in reported human trafficking cases this year, Soule says this sort of story is crucial to learning.

“It would do what it’s supposed to do in literature, which is to make you think critically about a situation and approach things differently,” Soule said.

School district spokesperson Katie Tanner provided this statement:

Berkeley County School District recognizes the importance of promoting a diverse and inclusive learning environment for students, including the incorporation of literature to support the standards, and reflecting a variety of perspectives and experiences. However, as an institution we also recognize the importance of respecting the beliefs and values of all families and allowing them to have a voice in the education of their children.

Therefore, we are working collaboratively to establish a process for parents and guardians to partner with our educators in a choice of literature selections for their child within the classroom and media centers. We recognize that the process of selecting literature is an ongoing and collaborative effort that involves input from educators, parents, and students, as well as ongoing feedback.

Berkeley County School District Policy KNBA allows parents to request a reconsideration of instructional materials at any time.

Bowers adds that book banning often does the reverse of what people want.

“I also know that if you want to get a teenager interested in a book, one of the best ways to do that is to tell them they’re not allowed to read this,” Bowers said.

Berkeley County Schools also already has this policy in place when choosing materials for school library media centers.