Human trafficking is on the rise in the Greenville area, and BJU students have opportunities to help stop it.
Students can start by educating themselves on the issue. According to statistics from Lyn Jordan, the development coordinator for SWITCH, an organization dedicated to ending human trafficking in the Upstate of South Carolina, South Carolina stands at No. 1 in the nation with the highest level of human trafficking activity.
Within the state, Greenville County has the second largest influx of human trafficking cases, with Horry County having the highest number.
According to the South Carolina attorney general’s office, the number of human trafficking cases in South Carolina has increased 363% since 2018. This may be explained by Interstate 85 and Interstate 95 running through South Carolina, which are major corridors for transporting victims to other states. The Internet has also accelerated the growth of the human trafficking industry.
Human trafficking is defined as one person being sold to another, and it can happen for a variety of reasons, including sexual exploitation and enslavement. According to statistics from SWITCH, the global human trafficking industry earns $150 billion annually, with $90 billon of those profits coming from sex trafficking. The U.S. is the source of 99% of that $90 billion.
The average entry age for a trafficking victim is between 12 and 16 years old, and many victims can continue to be trafficked into their 30s. While most victims are women and girls, 25% of victims are male. Trafficking can happen in any place including clubs, massage parlors, malls and neighborhood corners. There are 10 strip clubs, 17 illegitimate massage parlors and 22 escort services in the Upstate of South Carolina alone.
Any person can be a trafficker. Many victims are trafficked by a member of their family, their significant other or another person they are familiar with. In most cases the trafficker has developed a relationship with the victim over time in order to better coerce or trick them into trafficking, according to Greenville County Sheriff’s Officer Jonathan Bastoni.
South Carolina is No. 1 in the nation for familial trafficking, according to Zaina Greene, the executive director for SWITCH. Victims are often trafficked by people close to them rather than being snatched by strangers.
“What we are looking for is unhealthy relationships, whether that be a boyfriend whether that be a best friend,” Greene said. “It can be male, it can be female. It can be young, it can be old.”
The magnitude of these numbers can seem astronomical, but South Carolina is improving. Shared Hope International, which releases a report card regarding the status of human trafficking in each state in the U.S., named South Carolina the most improved state in 2019.
So, what can BJU students do to combat the growth of these crimes and continue improvement?
First, students need to be aware of the situation. Jordan said receiving a good education and being able to recognize the signs of abuse and exploitation are crucial.
Victims of trafficking and exploitation may display sudden shifts in behavior. They may appear anxious, withdrawn or detached. They may be excessively monitored or controlled by a family member or an older partner. And they may have inconsistent schedules or be unable to tell another person details about their daily lives.
Second, students should be aware of their own activity both online and in the community. Students should go with a group of people when leaving campus, and while off-campus they should be aware of the surrounding area and any suspicious people that may be around. When on social media, students should be cautious about who they are interacting with especially if the other person is a stranger.
Last, students can donate to organizations who provide victims of human trafficking with living spaces, transportation, personal necessities and the means to purchase food, clothing and toiletries. Organizations located in South Carolina include SWITCH, Doors to Freedom, Lighthouse for Life, Palmetto Family and Dorchester Children’s Advocacy Center. The BJU Community Service Council donated to SWITCH for the homecoming fundraiser in 2019.
To all BJU students as well as any victims of human trafficking or friends and family members of victims, Jordan had one thing to say.
“There’s hope,” Jordan said. “Make a call. Call us because we can help.”
If a student believes someone they know is being trafficked, they should contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline or the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force.