COLUMBIA, South Carolina — A plan released Thursday by South Carolina's top prosecutor sets up how the state will address the problem of human trafficking, including specialized training for law enforcement agencies and a public information campaign.
The details have been hashed out by the state's Human Trafficking Task Force, which is led by Attorney General Alan Wilson. For more than a year, the panel has been reviewing how other states address human trafficking and evaluating which plans might work best.
"You don't even know that you have a problem until you look," Wilson said Thursday. "As we find things, we realized that we've got to start tracking this stuff."
In 2012, state legislators passed a measure intended to strengthen South Carolina's anti-human-trafficking laws. The law also created the taskforce and gave the attorney general more tools to fight the selling people for sex or labor.
Another part of the new law requires police officers to ask women arrested for prostitution whether they are working against their will. Anyone who is being forced into the sex trade will not be prosecuted. The law also expands who can face criminal charges or civil penalties for assisting in human trafficking, meaning prosecutors can go after businesses such as massage parlors, storage units or tanning parlors that allow prostitution.
The plan, which is available online, sets out five objectives:
— determining the magnitude of human trafficking in South Carolina;
— protecting and supporting victims;
— investigating and prosecuting traffickers;
— preventing future trafficking
— continuing to study the issue.
Among the recommendations are training for medical professionals and first responders on identifying the signs of human trafficking, providing more emergency shelters for victims and developing a system to follow trafficking activity.
The plan also calls for setting up a system to teach children about trafficking as part of their school curriculum and launching a public service campaign to help people know how to identify trafficking activity.
Organizers say disseminating information must be disseminated broadly and intelligently. Marie Sazehn, who works in Wilson's office on human trafficking issues, said she's gotten calls from flight attendants and long-haul truckers seeking information on how to spot potential traffickers and victims.
"It just kind of goes beyond sometimes who you might think would be involved," she said.
The task force has its next meeting in September, and Wilson says meetings on the next steps will continue throughout the summer.
"We haven't waited for this plan to start doing things," Wilson said. "Now we're all on the same sheet."
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