GEORGETOWN, SC (WBTW) – Horry County is one of the top five counties with the highest number of human trafficking cases in South Carolina, according to local officials.
The Coastal Region Human Trafficking Task Force was created just one year ago and spreads awareness across local counties with poster campaigns and education, but there is still progress to be made getting the community involved.
“If you don’t remember anything else I say today, remember the term, ‘look below the surface’,” Georgetown City Police Chief Kelvin Waites said during Thursday’s quarterly task force meeting.
Law enforcement, Horry County Government, youth advocacy groups, direct services, labor trafficking groups, and health care services are just a few who represent this task force.
“There’s sex trafficking, labor trafficking, child trafficking, and our task force hopes to reach every single type of trafficking,” Horry County Police Spokesperson Brooke Holden said.
Poster campaigns hang in hotels, restaurants, and airports across the Grand Strand providing a hotline number hoping to reach a human trafficking victim in need.
More opportunity and training for the community are the focus in 2020.
“We need to start educating our area now and not wait until it takes ahold,” mother and counselor, Shannon Davis said.
The task force reminded people that trafficking is not a crime that always jumps out and reveals itself. A police chief, veteran, dad, and leader, Kelvin Waites, has seen human trafficking cases firsthand and says victims don’t always cry out.
“Kids having several unexplained absences from school, walking around looking disoriented, looking like they’re checked out, bumps, bruises, burns, just things you wouldn’t normally see,” Waites said.
Adults aren’t the only group the task force and the public are looking to train.
“Education is the key and these kids need to know what to look for too,” Davis said.
A 2020 task force goal involves replacing blindness with knowledge and increasing involvement to stop trafficking. Often it begins with picking up the phone.
“People feel like they are bothering law enforcement when they call us but that’s what we are here for. So if people could just be more aware and call us and it sounds cliche sometimes but if you see something say something and let us know and we will look deeper into it,” Waites tells News13.
Law enforcement officials involved in the task force say they would rather receive a call and be wrong than not call and be right about a human trafficking case.
The task force says it needs community involvement to help end trafficking this year. “We need someone who’s walked it and been through it and can share, they can relate to others and victims,” Holden said.
“In terms of the community, we need to do a better job of looking below the surface because like I said things are not always what they seem,” Waites said.
The task force is also spreading awareness through messages and upcoming opportunities on the SC Coastal Region Trafficking Task Force Facebook page.