Labor trafficking cases in South Carolina occur most among hotel, restaurant workers

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – When the topic of human trafficking comes up, most people think about sex trafficking.

But another type of crisis in South Carolina has to do with labor trafficking. It’s a form of modern-day slavery where traffickers force a victim to work against their will.

“We see it involving folks who are migrant workers, folks who work in restaurants or hotels,” said Kathryn Moorehead, director of the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force.

According to the Polaris Project, in 2019 there were 22 labor trafficking cases in South Carolina. 

That same year, a Conway man was convicted of the crime in Federal court. Bobby Paul Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in prison for forcing an intellectually disable man to work at his restaurant for more than 100 hours a week for no pay.

Edwards admitted to beating the victim with belts, pots, pans and even burned him. Edwards also used racial slurs against the victim and had to pay him more than $270,000 in restitution. 

Moorehead says those who are aging out of the foster care systems are among the most vulnerable.  “They may be trying to find a job because they are going to lose whatever financial assistance they have,” she said. 

“They’re particularly vulnerable because they may not have been taught how to look for a job, you know, the life skills, that one needs to be able to identify whether a job is legitimate or not.”

Moorehead says labor trafficking victims can quickly become sex trafficking victims. The top industry for both sex and labor trafficking is illicit massage, health and beauty. 

But there is a major problem plaguing South Carolina when it comes to labor trafficking victims. “There are no resources for labor trafficking victims other than some agencies that provide some legal support, but we have no victim service providers for labor trafficking.”

Moorehead says that is concerning for people in a rural area where there are no services and they are trying to find the help that doesn’t exist.

“The lack of education in communities across the Southeast is actually a concern for state leaders in the Southeast region,” Moorehead added.

But the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force is starting a statewide initiative to identify labor trafficking and is expecting to see an enormous increase in the number of victims identified in the coming months.

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