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Slavery still exists here today

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Phil Noble

What a shocking headline, but our Attorney General Alan Wilson says it’s true – and he’s right. Slavery today is not black folks standing on the auction block in the city square. Its modern day equivalent is called “human trafficking” – for the sex trade, enforced labor and especially exploitation of children.

“It is a real problem…[I]t is clear that South Carolinians are traffickers, that South Carolinians are victims, and that human trafficking is happening in our state,” according to the S.C. State Plan to Address Human Trafficking, which was released this summer by Wilson and a collection of 18 federal, state and community organizations.

So, how big a problem is it? Statistics about such nefarious and hidden crimes are murky at best, but some good data is being developed.

First globally: Former President Jimmy Carter recently wrote a book dealing with the issue entitled “Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.” In a stunning statement, Carter says, “There’s a greater number of slaves sold now across international borders, according to annual reports by the U.S. State Department, than there was in the 18th and 19th centuries. And the total slavery income… is more than $32 billion.”

Nationally: According to U.S. State Department data, about 700,000 people a year, mainly women and children, are trafficked across international borders each year, and the United States is the highest country of destination for human trafficking. Fifty thousand women and children are trafficked in the United States each year. Atlanta is probably the largest U.S. city for traffickers.

In South Carolina: “Human trafficking takes place every day in our country, in our state and in our neighborhoods,” Wilson says. A recent report by the Polaris Project tracked telephone calls and other contacts from distressed people to the National Human Trafficking Resources Center and South Carolina ranked 28th in the nation, with 273 calls. Myrtle Beach topped the list with 52 calls, followed by Charleston, Greenville and Columbia.

But there is some good news in all this for South Carolina.

In 2012, our state passed what is considered to be among the best laws in the county for dealing with this problem. And, in a rare case of bipartisan support, it passed unanimously. The law provided stricter language defining the crime, new measures for holding predators more accountable, and expanded services giving victims better access to restitution and civil remedies.

But, as the recent S.C. report makes abundantly clear, there is more that needs to be done. The principal recommendations were:

u Better enforcement of existing laws, rules and regulations

u More training and education so medical, professional and first responders would better recognize the signs of human trafficking

u More funding for victims’ assistance and services

u Better coordination among agencies and organizations dealing with these crimes

u Actions for more public awareness about human trafficking and the lost opportunities to assist victims and hold perpetrators accountable

It is gratifying to know that in South Carolina – the state that was historically probably the leading slave-trading state – we are now doing something about the modern-day scourge of this age-old problem.

And, as usual with such issues, we need to do a lot more; ranking 28th is nothing to be proud of. But we do have good laws on the books and our state is increasingly realizing we have a problem and we are doing something about it.

In today’s divisive political environment, when nothing good ever seems to get done, this is progress.