South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson visited the Summerville Rotary Club meeting on Wednesday, touching on a sensitive topic. While Wilson spoke on a variety of issues, he kept circling back to human trafficking and its effect on the Palmetto State.
He explained the topic is very important to him, making it a point to call it an "epidemic." Wilson also revealed that human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world and that an increasing number of gangs and other criminal organizations are moving away from drugs and into human trafficking.
Wilson said that the problem is also not far away in cities like New York or Chicago or in foreign countries. South Carolina is in between two of the top 20 cities, with the highest amounts of human trafficking in Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta.
Wilson said that before 2012 South Carolina was among the worst states for human trafficking legislation in the country. However, since the passage of the Human Trafficking Act in 2012, the state now leads the nation in human trafficking arrests and prosecutions.
“We’ve prosecuted dozens, upon dozens, upon dozens of traffickers statewide,” he said.
Wilson told the crowd that the South Carolina Human Trafficking Act has been adopted by other states to improve their human trafficking laws. He also praised work being done locally by the Rotary Club and their support of the newly expanded Dorchester Children’s Advocacy Center. However, he did say that there's still work to be done across the Lowcountry and state.
And the number of reported human trafficking cases rise annually, according to Wilson. He linked the rising number to the growing efforts of law enforcement, each year cracking down more on the crime and conducting more relevant operations.
Wilson also made it a point to say the human trafficking is not limited to the sex trade, it is also things like forced labor.
Wilson also said that he advocates for better education for people from all walks of life and areas of the workforce. He said that the state task force to stop human trafficking includes law enforcement, doctors, nurses and teachers. He hopes educating more people on how to recognize trafficking will help eliminate places for traffickers to hide.
“By educating the public we give those cockroaches nowhere to run,” Wilson said.
He expressed his hope that students receive more education in the classroom about human trafficking and how they can use things like the internet to lure people. The internet has a lot of hidden dangers that adolescents aren't aware of, according to Wilson. He said that a child alone on the internet is like a child traveling the world alone.
Wilson said that often times it's runaways who fall victim to traffickers. Often times, these runaways are children previously in foster care.
Wilson said that one important step that he wants to take in fighting human trafficking is increasing the penalty for crimes like solicitation, currently a misdemeanor offense. He said that when you attack people who seek out those who have been trafficked it destroys the demand.
Wilson discussed other topics with the club including his continued fight against offshore drilling in South Carolina. He explained that while there is a possibility to grow the economy, he is wary of the practice and the damage it would cause to marine life and the tourism industry. Wilson said that he estimated the total losses from offshore drilling could be as much as $44 million.