Rise in evictions, unemployment could lead to an increase in human trafficking cases in S.C.

Lighthouse for Life CEO says she has received more calls in the last three months about people trying to break the cycle

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) —Hundreds of people in South Carolina have gone through human trafficking, but some received a boost in getting their lives back together.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, via its Office for Victims and Crime, recently gave the state a $500,000 grant to address housing needs for human trafficking survivors.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office says were 678 reported victims of human trafficking in South Carolina last year, but that number could be on the rise.

Jen Thompson with Lighthouse for Life, a group that raises awareness for human trafficking, says she’s gotten more phone calls during the pandemic of people trying to get out of a human trafficking cycle.

“People are being exploited by their landlords wanting sex for rent. There are people with Master’s degrees and families that are in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s that have never been trafficked, and a series of tragic events wound up putting them in places where they’re forced to do things they never would have done,” Thompson told ABC Columbia. 

State Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell (D-Lancaster Co.), who has proposed or co-sponsored several bills addressing human tracking and sexual assault, said vulnerable populations, who have already been impacted by the rise in evictions and employment, could be more at-risk to fall victim to trafficking.

“It’s a very scary thing, I think we’re facing almost a perfect storm of economic disparity for a lot of people. It has implications for human trafficking, but it has implications all across the board,” Rep. Powers Norrell said.

To help more people looking to escape human trafficking, the $500,000 grant from the Department of Justice is going to Doors to Freedom, an organization in Dorchester County that provides a safe place for survivors to go. With the $500,000 grant, they are able to provide several survivors with a stable place to stay for up to two years. 

“The ability to have housing for people who are coming out of human trafficking to find a way to sustain themselves so they don;’t have to go back into a life that they’re trying to get away from is so absolutely important,” Rep. Powers Norrell said.

Thompson said stable housing is just the start, but says survivors need more to help re-establish their lives.

“They need continued support and they need a network and they need time and coaching and they need independence and they need to be in charge and be in charge,” Thompson said. “You need to allow them to be as in charge as possible, and empower them, not enable them.”

If you or someone you know is being affected by human trafficking, call 1 (888) 373-7888 or Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. 

Categories: Local News, News