Sex Trafficking in Charleston

My mom recently texted me a screenshot of a Facebook post detailing a teenager’s near escape from an alleged sex trafficking ring in Mount Pleasant. According to the post, a young girl was approached in a Walmart parking lot and asked to help two people with some car trouble. She declined to get out of her car and the two people screeched away not in a car, but in a white van. I’ve heard of these stories happening around the country before but this time it hit close to home. A woman who works for the Department of Juvenile Justice commented on the post, and stated that the lowcountry is 100% a breeding ground for “commercial exploitation of children”.  

After all the "God the Mother" sex trafficking rumors swirled around campus a while back, I was more alert, but figured it was an isolated incident. Now that I’ve read about this incident along with countless others, I’m starting to wonder...are we targets?

Sex trafficking seems to be on the rise, or maybe I’m just older and more aware of the evils in the world now. The local Charleston news network, ABC 4, published an article in 2019 that discussed new statistics: “ from the National Human Trafficking Center states in 2012 there were 32 cases of human trafficking statewide. Just six years later, there were 81 cases reported; an increase of nearly 154 percent, and what many are calling 'a new form of slavery' is popping up in unexpected communities”.  My criminal justice professor freshman year told the class that as a port city, Charleston is a hotspot for human trafficking.  

2019 saw 68 cases of human trafficking reported in South Carolina, down from a spike in 2017 and 2018. Both years saw over 100 reported cases, the highest in over a decade. Human trafficking is a crisis we don’t often think about, as it is thought to be more common in less developed nations. However, recent data from Migration Data Portal shows that this crisis is growing in the US with California, Texas, and Florida as the top three states for sex trafficking crimes. The fluctuations in the number of cases throughout the years is indicative of the lack of control government officials have on the problem. And more often than not, it's a problem that hides in plain sight. Live 5 published an article describing how easy it is for victims to go unnoticed or mistaken for willing prostitutes: “The misconception is people who work in the escort industry are doing it voluntarily and because they want to...A lot of those people are actually victims of trafficking.”  

As young women, we are told in order to protect ourselves we need to be vigilant about our personal safety. We’re told to carry pepper spray, learn self defense, not walk home alone, and not look down at our phones, among many other do’s and dont’s. These are all great habits to follow; we should always be alert and self-aware, but these constant reminders also show just how little our society values women's humanity. Our bubbles’ may not be as safe as we think they are…so be careful, be aware and always know your strength.