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Human trafficking along the Grand Strand

May 2, 2012

Trafficking on the Grand Strand,Myrtle Beach,Betty Houbion

MYRTLE BEACH — People buying and selling other people like commodities.  When you think of human trafficking, you might think of a foreign country but it happens along the Grand Strand andPee Dee.  Local experts reveal what really goes on.

“I was a typical American girl in a typical American neighborhood,” said Holly Smith, sex trafficking survivor.  “I was 14.”

Holly was at the mall with friends when she met a man who convinced her to runaway.

He then forced her into prostitution.

What happened to Holly is called human trafficking.

“Human trafficking, simply put, is modern slavery,” said Betty Houbion, human trafficking advocate.  “It’s the buying and selling of people.  It’s making money off of those sales.”

“Human trafficking is the second largest illegal criminal activity,” said Gloria Davis, Family Violence Services Coordinator, Pee Dee Coalition.

The Department of Justice estimates about 17,000 people are trafficked to theU.S.every year.

Holly was one of them and remembers one of the men her trafficker sold her to.

“He told me that I reminded him of his granddaughter,” she said.  “And so, after that point, a light just shut off and I turned into someone else who had to do what she had to do to survive.”

“Throughout the country, sex slavery, commercial sex is the number one form of human trafficking that we see here,” said Lieutenant Michael Hildebrad, Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.  “It’s kind of specific to our area because of tourism.”

Captain David Knipes with the Myrtle Beach Police Department says there are certain questions you should ask if you think someone is a victim.

“Are they being forced into prostitution or forced into some sort of labor?” he said.  “Are they always being escorted by somebody?  Are they in an area where they’re very rarely allowed to leave or leave by themselves?”

It’s important to recognize victims becauseDavissays they don’t normally seek help.

“Their lives are being threatened,” she said.  “They’re being forced against their will.  Most of them don’t speak English.  So, it’s hard for them to get help.”

Even though it was hard, Holly decided she didn’t want to be a victim, she wanted to be a survivor.

“A police officer spotted me on the street,” she said.  “I knew if I didn’t call out right then and there something bad was going to happen.”

That’s when she asked the officer what would happen if she wasn’t of age.

He then handcuffed her and took her to the station.

Her parents then came to get her and her nightmare was over.

However, it continues for thousands more, right now.

“InSouth Carolinacurrently we do not keep track of active cases or cleared cases,” said Lt. Hildebrand.  “Over the last seven or eight years or so, we’ve seen a handful of cases here inSouth Carolina, maybe five or six.”

Holly made it her mission to help trafficking victims and show the world this really happens inAmerica.

“I started to keep a list of news reports about girls being trafficked underage and there are so many every week across the nation that I couldn’t keep up with it anymore,” she said.

“This is one of those topics a lot of people don’t like to talk about just because it is a dirty topic and it’s not pleasant,” said Lt. Hildebrand.  “But this is something that needs to be in the forefront of everybody’s mind.”

“I haven’t had a moment yet when it really hit me,” said Holly.  “I almost feel like I’m telling a different girl’s story.”

Right now,South Carolinalawmakers work to pass an updated human trafficking bill.

Supporters say it better protects victims and is less broad than current legislation.

Published: May 01, 2012



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