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ALERT: Second H.3757 Human Trafficking Hearing, Wednesday 21, 9:00 am, Blatt 516

March 19, 2012

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Citizen advocates from all over the State of South Carolina convened at the Statehouse on January 24 to bring alive SC Lobby Day to End Human Trafficking. By the end of the day, they turned the world upside down, and a bill was introduced in the Senate – S.1135, the twin bill of H.3757 – a day of historical magnitude in the deep rich annuals of South Carolina.

This week, the House Judiciary Criminal Laws Subcommittee will hold a second hearing on H.3757. Our legislators are now listening, and see and hear and understand how important this bill is to the people of South Carolina. At the hearing on February 22, Subcommittee member Rep.Todd Rutherford asked, to paraphrase, “Isn’t there already a law against human trafficking?” He, like many of our legislators, knows that a law exists but they have not refreshed their memories about the law. Yes, Rep. Rutherford, there is a law on the books. It is a penalty law first passed in 2007. Last session, the legislature amended that law, making the crime of human trafficking a class A felony with a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
This law is fantastic. So why do we need another law? This law on the books can ONLY be applied when a trafficker has been convicted.

Furthermore, this law applies to labor trafficking while skimming sex trafficking as “services.” The laws now pending in the House and Senate
are comprehensive laws, which will enable South Carolina law enforcement and government agencies to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers, and work collaboratively with federal and cross-jurisdictional law enforcement and with NGOs or victim service providers. The piece
de resistance is that it makes sure that victim services will be reimbursed out of assets forfeited, and that portions of the proceeds will also go toward paying costs incurred by state and local law enforcement and courts. We currently are at the mercy of only federal law. This law will
reinforce and complement federal law, add incentives and form a solid unified front against human trafficking to end this crime against humanity, rip revenues out of it and prevent it from arising again. Below is a letter to the editor by one of the January 24 advocates, Lucy Hoffman
of Soroptimists International –Greenville: Hear her impassioned plea for this Legislature to stand up along the side of the other 42 states with strong up front state laws, to no longer be one of the states lagging behind when South Carolina was one of the first states to pass any law
against human trafficking:

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“Slavery is alive and well in South Carolina. If that got your attention, then trust me, it got mine as well. Human trafficking is a part of our every day lives. Last year, there were 163 phone calls to the hotline from South Carolina. Amazing, don’t you agree? Because we have major
interstates, private boating, and private planes, human trafficking can exist here within our borders quite easily. Additionally, we have limited resources for the counties in our state where the most activity takes place. Specifically, the southern part of Greenville County is a hotbed of
activity. Without more deputies and laws that allow them the power to arrest the criminals, we will continue to struggle with this hidden crime.

Do you know what Human Trafficking is? If not, you may want to do some research. You can start with http://www.polarisproject.org. When most Americans hear of this brutal and destructive crime, we think “immigrants” and other countries. Over 100,000 Americans are forced into
Human Trafficking each year. Staggering. What makes it more unbelievable is that it could be the woman working next to you, or the girl who rides the bus beside of you, or a friend of your child. This unspeakable crime exists through threats, coercion, and blackmail. Along with a healthy dose of brainwashing.

On Tuesday, January 24, 2012, I went with a group of women to Columbia for my first ever lobbying experience. I was curious. This was an historic day. One woman spearheaded this event – Betty Houbion. Together with Patricia Ravenhorst – an attorney who specializes in victim abuse – they put together this lobbying effort. Attorney General Alan Wilson spoke passionately about the cause. Representative Nelson Hardwick and Senator Hutto stood up against this horrendous crime. Senator Tom Davis has committed to helping get this bill through the statehouse. Before we left that day, the bill had received a number. We did not expect that. Those who had initiated this event were stunned. With absolute delight.

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This is what we are after. At this point in time, South Carolina does not have a bill outlawing Human Trafficking. All we can respond to is the federal law. We need more. For a state who claims that their rights often champion the federal laws, we need to ensure that all law enforcers know what they can do to punish the law breakers. We need South Carolina laws along with awareness and education. A lot to ask, but less than what is needed.

Thanks to all who have worked to get this bill into our house and now through it. We must stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves. It is not a choice – it is a crime.”

[NOTE: Big thanks goes to Polaris Project. They gave us the technical assistance at every step to make Lobby Day successful, and to make sure that our bills are congruent with federal law and aligned with laws of other states. ]

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