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Multi-County Regional Human Trafficking Task Force meets, hears presentation on sex trafficking

November 15, 2018

The newly formed Multi-County Regional Human Trafficking Task Force met Thursday morning at the Aiken Municipal Building in downtown Aiken.

The group’s main focus is to combat the human trafficking problem in six counties: Aiken, Barnwell, Allendale, Saluda, McCormick and Edgefield.

The task force, which is an offshoot of the Attorney General’s Office State Human Trafficking Task Force, was formed earlier this year by Susan Selden, executive director of the Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons, and Officer Eleanor Hunter, with the Aiken Department of Public Safety.

“There’re just so many people who had no idea that human trafficking was even a problem here in Aiken, let alone South Carolina as a whole,” Selden said.

The group heard from guest speakers Thursday from the Lighthouse for Life, a nonprofit in Columbia whose mission is to raise awareness about the realities of human trafficking while restoring victims to wholeness.

Robert Healey, volunteer with Lighthouse for Life and member of the state task force, gave a detailed presentation on human trafficking and why it’s a billion dollar industry around the world.

“It’s estimated that human sex trafficking makes up a $150 billion industry around the world,” Healey said. “Here in South Carolina, it’s probably estimated to be around $100 million to $150 million industry. It’s always about the money.”

Sex trafficking takes three players: the trafficker, the sex buyer and the victim, Healey explained.

Sex buyers, also known in the trade as “Johns,” are men who humiliate, degrade, dominate and exploit other human beings when they buy sex, he said.

The victim’s, or prostitutes, are human beings who acquiesce to commercial sex due to fraud, force coercion/fear, despair or lack of options.

“No one chooses their career as a prostitute,” Healey said.

He explained the reason human trafficking exists is because there is so much money to be made.

“If it wasn’t for the sex buyer, there would be no sex trafficking economy,” he said. “If sex buyers stopped purchasing sex – the enterprise would collapse overnight. This makes our task hard trying to stop this is near to impossible. The objective is to reduce the population, but as soon as one person is rescued, another is recruited. The population is unaffected.”

South Carolina is ranked 47th in the nation when it comes to the criminal code fines given to sex buyers.

“This tells law enforcement this is low-priority,” Healey said. “We need to revise the criminal code and for that we need strong public support.”

Jen Thompson, executive director of Lighthouse for Life, also made some remarks to the group following Healey’s presentation and then everyone split off into sub-committees to discuss the future goals the group wants to obtain.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the regional task force and learning how to join can email Selden at sselden@cumbeecenter.org.

For more information on the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force, visit humantrafficking.scag.gov.

Information on Lighthouse for Life can be found at lighthouseforlife.org.

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