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It’s Time to Celebrate! South Carolina Now Has a NEW Law Against Human Trafficking!

June 23, 2012

From the Myrtle Beach Sun News:

Ever wonder what it takes to get a dream signed into state law? For those dedicated local folks who’ve been fighting the scourge of human trafficking, it took a little more than three years of pushing legislators, sending emails, holding rallies and doing everything they could to raise awareness of the repugnant activity. It’s been a hard row to hoe, but the volunteers have been tireless in their efforts. By their success they show that concerned citizens can make a real difference in the state if they have the will and determination to see their efforts through.

On Monday, the governor signed the law cracking down on human trafficking, a crime that has already taken place across the state in recent years and to which our area, with its high transient and visitor population, is especially vulnerable. The new law seeks to better support victims of trafficking with counseling and financial aid, and it increases penalties for those convicted of the loathsome act. Among the most important provisions are the addition of asset forfeiture to the consequences for trafficking – forcing traffickers to pay for the crime-fighting efforts that will catch the next trafficker – and the creation of a state trafficking task force, charged with both coordinating the state effort between law enforcement, government and nonprofits, and with creating public awareness campaigns to raise the profile of the issue.

Betty Houbion, one of the main forces behind the effort to pass the law, has dedicated the last three years of her life to the cause. She and fellow advocates first asked Rep. Nelson Hardwick to propose the law in 2009, and since then, she said, she has worked on the effort every day. What has that meant for her personally? A shakeup of how she prioritizes her time, for one thing.

“I put my business aside,” she said Wednesday. “I haven’t worked for two years. This is just more important, and I felt without legislation, state legislation, this just couldn’t be done.”

A former business and trade consultant with a master’s in business management, Houbion turned those skills instead to organizing the effort to end human trafficking. Over that time, she saw the effort grow from a core of “a very few people” a few years ago to about 50 who showed up for a Statehouse rally in January and from there to email contacts numbering in the thousands.

Along the way, Houbion and others picked up the support not only of Hardwick – though his efforts in the House can’t be underestimated – but of other legislators, advocates, news organizations and the state’s law enforcement community, which made the bill one of their legislative priorities this year.

“Law enforcement in this state is ready and willing to arrest and prosecute human-trafficking offenders,” said Attorney General Alan Wilson in January, “but there currently is no law on the books for them to use.”

That’s no longer the case.

The law goes into effect six months from now, a date Houbion finds significant, and for good reason. It seems proper that this new fight against slavery gets added help on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Houbion already has plans for the next phase of the effort, for training events, efforts to open new shelters and more advocacy for victims on every level. While the signing this week has been an important milestone to celebrate, it’s not the end of her efforts – or that of the other dedicated advocates Houbion repeatedly mentioned – by any means. And Houbion has no intention of calling it quits now.

“If we can’t end human trafficking in this country, I don’t know what we can do,” she said. “I guess I can’t go back to work yet.”

How to help

  • Houbion said Wednesday she’s been involved in giving a number of recent tips to local, state and federal authorities about suspecting trafficking. Some of those tips have already borne fruit.
  • “It shows that citizens can speak up and let law enforcement know what they see and what they know about human trafficking,” she said.
  • Think you see an instance of human trafficking? Call in tips to the national hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

From → Legislation

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