Human sex trafficking in South Carolina is real and rampant.

The trafficking of human beings for sex isn’t just a third-world phenomenon. It exists and thrives within the borders of the United States, including South Carolina. Trafficking is so rampant that studies show that nearly everyone in the United States is affected by the commercial sex industry.

The Department of State defines trafficking as a crime “in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”

However, sexual slavery and human trafficking affects many older than the age of 18 as well. A person can still be coerced to participate in the commercial sex industry after he or she reaches the age of 18.

The Numbers of Human Sex Trafficking

Though precise numbers do not exist, the estimated number of sex trafficking victims in the United States reaches into the tens of thousands, and the industry’s profits extend into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The average age at which a victim begins to be trafficked is 12-14 years old, and sadly, minors constitute a high percentage of those currently working in the commercial sex industry.

South Carolina is no exception to the rule that every state is contaminated with the grim reality of human sex trafficking. Again, only sporadic data exists on the commercial sex industry in South Carolina; however, some reliable numbers exist. The estimates conclude that nearly 670 persons are advertised daily for commercial sex in South Carolina, with around 10% of those persons being minors. The lack of criminal convictions against known sex-traffickers is perhaps the most alarming number, though – a mere 50 charges of Trafficking in Persons closed in South Carolina in 2016.

The Stories of Human Sex Trafficking

As gut-wrenching as these statistics are, the stories of the victims are even more traumatic. Lanie George is one such victim.

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Lanie grew up as a normal child except for one important difference – she was being exploited by the commercial sex industry. Every day, Lanie’s school bus would drop her off at the strip club where her mother worked. When she was younger, Lanie would simply grab a bite to eat and do her homework while her mom worked. But one day when she was 10-years-old, the strip club was running low on employees, so Lanie was recruited to help service the customers.

Place yourself in Lanie’s young world: a 10-year-old child experiencing pressure from your mother and every other adult around you to provide sexual favors to grown men. On top of all that, Lanie lacked the ability as a young girl to resist the demands of grown adults. And so, with little choice, Lanie was swept into the world of commercial sex.

The Attitudes Toward Victims of Human Sex Trafficking

Lanie knows what it’s like to feel dirty and unwanted. She knows the feeling of shame and disgust. And Lanie knows that those are the only feelings some people have toward those caught in the web of the commercial sex industry. For too long, many people have given little effort to understand the plight of victims. Instead, these people assign the blame to the victims for their situation.

To be certain, there are some who willingly choose to participate in commercial sex for financial reasons. Police will tell you that though they offer assistance to prostitutes to get out of the industry, some say that the money is just too good to give up. But that’s simply just not the case for many participants. These unwilling participants are coerced through physical abuse and threats, forced drug addiction, financial debt and many other avenues to remain a sexual slave. In other words, they have little choice or chance of escape.

The Misguided Effort to End Human Sex Trafficking

In many ways, misunderstanding of the commercial sex industry has led to misguided attempts to end it. For decades, law enforcement and legislators have focused their attention on lowering the number of prostitutes on the streets. However, little success has been realized with this strategy because prostitutes aren’t the driving force behind the industry.

High demand keeps the commercial sex industry humming, not the desire of participants to provide the services. Though a somewhat crude way to explain the situation, an economic illustration using basic supply and demand theory provides important insight into why the commercial sex industry continues.

It’s as simple as this – if no one solicited sex, no one would be needed to service that demand.

The Resources for Victims of Human Sex Trafficking

Ambivalence toward the commercial sex industry has also led to a disturbingly-low number of resources to help victims escape and remain free from bondage. Currently, South Carolina has zero recovery houses for victims and only a few ministries dedicated to helping them escape. Additionally, community awareness of the problem is low despite a recent uptick in efforts to spread the word.

As one might expect, the lack of resources can be a real roadblock to a victim’s escape. Because commercial sex is often the only way participants make money and because of the physical abuse and drug abuse victims experience, escaping requires more than just a decision to do so. Victims need a place to go – a reasonable alternative – to the only life they may have ever known. Having no other legitimate place to go makes an already difficult choice even harder.

The Ongoing Effort to End Human Sex Trafficking

Lanie George has since escaped the nightmare that is the commercial sex industry and was even able to save her mother. Now, Lanie runs Redeeming Joy, a safe place for victims of sex trafficking to heal. Lanie often wonders why no one stood up for her – if someone had just taken notice of her situation, she never would have experienced the horrors that she did. Despite everything she has been through, Lanie understands now that her experiences have given her a greater opportunity to help those still entrapped.

Lanie alone cannot eradicate human sex trafficking and the commercial sex industry. No, the fight in the Palmetto State must be fought by every South Carolinian. Just because the battle over this issue won’t resume again in the South Carolina Legislature until January doesn’t mean you can’t do something right now. Sign this petition to tell your legislators and your fellow South Carolinians that the time is now to end sexual slavery in South Carolina!

Briley Hughes

Briley Hughes

Communications Director

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