Stopping Human Trafficking

Two bills advance in SC Senate

South Carolina Radio Network
January 21, 2019 - 2:21 pm

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JANUARY 21, 2019 BY RENEE SEXTON (South Carolina Radio Network)

Two bills relating to human trafficking advanced to a South Carolina Senate committee to be discussed this week.


Robert Healy with Lighthouse for Life testifies before Senate Judicial Subcommittee (Source: SCETV)

One bill would give prosecution immunity to anyone charged with prostitution who is under age 18. The bill is designed to protect underage victims of human trafficking.

“If a minor is being coerced and trafficked and all of a sudden they see a police officer, they need to feel like they can go up to the police officer and say ‘hey, I’m a victim’ without fear that the police officer is going to turn around and put handcuffs on them and say ‘you’re not really a victim. You’re a prostitute,'” Subcommittee Chair Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said.

Victims advocates say trafficked teens are hesitant to tell police they are being forced to engage in sex acts against their will due to that fear. Law enforcement experts warn victims are controlled by their traffickers with fear or by being their only means of financial support.

“Somebody’s forcing you to engage in a sex act, coercing you, paying you money, that if you’re under 18  you shouldn’t be charged for that,” Hutto said. “Because you’re a minor.”

The bill also requires that the identities of victims of human trafficking be protected from the public record.

It is possible that the bill may not be necessary since legislators last year already gave the state Department of Social Services authority to protect children in human trafficking cases. A decision may be available when the full committee meets Tuesday.

A second bill increases the penalties for those convicted of soliciting prostitution. Advocates for human trafficking victims say an endless stream of customers perpetuates the problem.

“All of the money that drives the underground sex economy comes from a single source and that’s the sex buyer,” Lighthouse for Life public policy director Robert Healy told the subcommittee. “The money that they lay on the table sustains and creates both sex trafficking and adult prostitution.”

Healy said the state’s current fine schedule implies the crime is a low priority.

“The state is sending a horrible message to law enforcement,” he said. “The fact is, it’s the root cause of sex trafficking and adult prostitution. It’s also the root cause of commercial sex exploitation of children. “If we can deter demand for adult prostitution it will also serve to protect children that are held in the bondage of commercial sex.

Richland County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Heidi Jackson said she has rarely ever come across a situation with two consenting adults agreeing to exchange money for sex. “There’s really no deterrent value,” she said. “Most of (the prostitutes) showed up and pled guilty to get the heck out of there and not have to say anything before the court. ”

Both bills were given a favorable report by the subcommittee and passed on to the full committee for consideration.

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