Friday, October 11, 2013
Human trafficking happens in the Lowcountry. It’s not pretty and it’s not something widely talked about. And all too often it rears its ugly head in the form of prostitution.
But an organization has put down roots here, on Daniel Island, called The A21 Campaign.
It is a global organization with the mission to abolish human trafficking in the 21st Century.
They launched the Lowcountry campaign in June 2012 to raise awareness, be proactive and to educate.
According to CaraLee Murphy of The A21 Campaign, when the campaign put offices in the Lowcountry, the staff sat down with law enforcement agencies, victim’s advocates and others who all said, “Yes, it is happening here. And yes, it is a problem.”
Murphy explained that a lot of it looks like prostitution - but it is forced or coerced prostitution.
“More often than not, those girls did not choose that lifestyle,” she said.
Murphy said that in the United States, what we see most is sex trafficking.
“Perhaps these victims made choices and got involved with a man who ultimately backed her into a corner. These victims are often threatened by using their family or children as leverage. Blackmail is also a common intimidation tool.”
Murphy said that 18,000 humans per year are trafficked into the United States. It is unknown how many are trafficked domestically. It is mostly young girls and women and sometimes men and boys as well.
The staff at the A21 Campaign work closely with victims of human trafficking to help them start a new life and get restored.
But identifying a victim is not easy.
“A lot of times what happens is victims are brought to us after a bust of some sort - when law enforcement are looking for a trafficking ring,” said Murphy. Last year alone those types of operations rescued 103 minor victims, some of which were South Carolina natives.
The A21 Campaign offers victims a variety of resources, from basic needs, to therapy, to education and jobs.
In addition, there is an anti-human trafficking law in effect in South Carolina (H3757) in which traffickers can be sentenced up to 15 years for every victim. And if a victim is under the age of 18, (often the average age is 12 to 13, traffickers will get up to an additional 15 years on top of the sentence for each minor.
In addition the law calls for a forfeiture of assets if the offender used money made off victims to make purchases. Those items are then seized and liquidated, and the money goes back to the victims to help restore them.
Murphy said that anyone from any socio-economic class or religion can become a victim.
“We find victims who have gone to church all of their lives to girls from broken homes. There is no average.”
An offender looks for girls who show insecurity. Murphy explained that they woo their victims with presents, compliments and love.
“A DEA agent we work with sat down with a trafficker once and he said ‘How do you get these young, beautiful girls?’ The trafficker responded that ‘it is so easy. You can walk into any mall in America and find a girl who is alone. You tell her she has beautiful eyes and if she thanks you and walks you let her go. If she shows any sign of insecurity, etc., I know I have her.’ After striking up a relationship, the trafficker smothers her with compliments, says he wants to be her boyfriend, etc.,” said Murphy.
“It’s all about filling a void. Once he has her, he tells his victims they work for him now or he will kill her family and hurt and beat the victim.”
Murphy said that other ways of bringing in victims is showing them a glitz and glamor lifestyle with expensive cars and luxury name brands. She said as soon as the offender has gotten her that all stops and the force begins.
“A lot people think trafficking starts with kidnapping - and it does happen. But with kidnapping, the offender has to hide the victim and keep her quiet because people are looking for her. It is easier to go after the girls that are runaways or girls no one is looking for.”
Statistically a girl who has survived the seven to nine year time-frame of being victimized can successfully go through recovery after being rescued. Most end up taking their own life if they have been abused much more past nine years.
“We have hope that there is true restoration,” said Murphy. “We’ve seen it in homes across the world. Girls are fully restored, stepping into a path where they are empowered to live and help prevent future generations from becoming victims.
“It takes a lot of work and a commitment from the community at large to come together to do whatever takes to support these girls,” she said.
Educate to prevent
The A21 Campaign has many roles, all centering on protection, prevention, awareness and education.
Prevention starts with arming the public and professional community with tools such as what tactics to look for.
A21 has also written curriculum into ninth and 10th grade classes that is aligned with common core standards. It consists of, five easy lessons that are age appropriate.
“We teach these kids and anyone who will listen that human beings are not commodities,” she said.
“Of course we want to eradicate human trafficking altogether. We want to make South Carolina a terrible place to conduct human trafficking.”
The A21 Campaign is also working on three main initiatives. Medical Protocol is offered to emergency room doctors.
“All of the girls we’ve dealt with have been through the emergency room multiple times because of the lifestyle they are being forced to live. We want to educate those doctors and nurses on what to look for and the actions and steps they should take should they suspect they’ve come across a victim.”
Operation Missing Person is geared toward the hospitality industry. A lot of the activities associated with human trafficking happen within hotels, and workers, front desk personnel and security can be the front line toward eradicating this if they are empowered with proper training. They are equipped with a binder with photos of missing and runaway girls ages 11 to 18 years old.”
The photos are categorized by eye color, which is the one thing that is hard to change.
A test training was done and 196 out of 200 invited attendees participated.
“The last initiate is that we need people help spread the word, talk to people, support the girls,” said Murphy. “We just need the community to rally behind ending trafficking in Charleston, South Carolina, the United States and the world.”
Visit The A21 Campaign at www.thea21campaign.org for details on donating or other training opportunities.