‘The most heinous cases:’ How the pandemic has increased human trafficking in South Carolina

Local News

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — The coronavirus pandemic is impacting another crisis: human trafficking.

South Carolina leaders believe trafficking is on the rise as the pandemic continues to isolate the vulnerable.

Kathryn Moorehead, the director of the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force described recent cases.

“What we’ve been seeing in working with forensic nurses and health care providers around the state are the most heinous of the cases are hitting the radar. We’re talking about, broken bones or somebody who may have gone into a seizure or those kinds of cases in which, the perpetrator can’t care for the victim,” Moorehead said.

Severe cases are being seen across the country. Polaris Project — the group that runs the national hotline — has not seen an increase in the number of calls, but analyzed calls for the month of April in 2019 and 2020 and saw a 40% increase in crisis cases.

“Crisis cases are those types of cases that a client, survivor, or victim is in need of shelter, transportation, or law enforcement involvement and is needed within 24 hours,” said Stephanie Marroquin, Polaris Project case response specialist.

Moorehead is worried that some trafficking cases remain in the dark since children are not consistently around mandated reporters. She’s also concerned about services for minor victims.

“We’ve had some pretty horrific cases during this pandemic in which we don’t have the level of services that we need to support the victims and ensure that their wellness in the long-term is maintained,” Moorehead said.

Since 2018, the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) can be involved in every human trafficking case involving a minor.

Source: South Carolina Department of Social Services

The number of human trafficking investigations by DSS over a 10-month period shows the number of investigations dropped slightly in April once the pandemic hit the entire state, and went back up in September and October.

Source: South Carolina Department of Social Services

The state task force is still collecting exact data on the pandemic’s impacts on trafficking.

“Unfortunately, while we’re seeing increase in numbers, we’re pretty alarmed by the fact that there is likely a lot of victims who are underneath the radar,” said Moorehead.

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