Conference sheds light on human trafficking

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Between 100,000 and 300,000 young people in the U.S. are at risk for human trafficking each year and the average age of entry is between 12 and 14 years old.

Though statistics regarding human trafficking are relatively new, it is known as a widespread crime affecting children, men and women around the world, said Camila Wright, assistant attorney general in Georgia, at an annual conference held Friday by the Lowcountry Coalition Against Human Trafficking on Hilton Head Island.

Trafficking of children is the most common human trafficking crime in the region, primarily because it is the focus of most law enforcement agencies. But it is a crime that’s not easy to find on the surface, Wright said.

“When you look for trafficking, you find it. When you expend the resources, you find it,” Wright said.

Earlier this month, 23-year-old Kristopher Block of Richland County pleaded guilty to human trafficking of a minor after he was found taking photos of the victim and advertising her for sale on the Internet. It was the third conviction under South Carolina’s 2012 revised human trafficking law, according to the attorney general’s office.

While steps have been taken to make it easier to fight human trafficking, organizations like the Hilton Head-based Lowcountry Coalition Against Human Trafficking are dedicated to the ongoing effort of raising awareness.

Formed in 2010, the coalition includes a network of organizations, including medical groups, law enforcement, nonprofits, media and concerned citizens. Each year, it hosts the conference as one of two large awareness events, in addition to multiple presentations at schools, churches, nonprofits and civic organizations.

About 1.7 million children run away from home each year, about one-third of whom are approached for commercial exploitation, Wright said.

Human trafficking also includes the exploitation of labor and migrant workers.

Wright said the best way for the public and nonprofits to assist the fight is to support law enforcement and provide advocacy, after care and education.

Informed citizens can help incite change. Wright cited a citizen who recently approached the mayor in Savannah to request specialized human trafficking training for officers. Wright’s office was solicited to provide that training.

“Within three weeks they had identified seven cases that were open for investigation,” Wright said.

Participants in Friday’s conference spent the morning learning about trafficking on global, regional and state levels. In the afternoon, they split up into workshops focusing on law enforcement, labor and migrant workers, clergy and the Internet and social media, and participated in a survivor’s panel discussion.

Other speakers included Robert Bilheimer, president of Worldwide Documentaries and director of “Not My Life;” Marie Sazehn, assistant attorney general for South Carolina; and Michael Barker, owner of C4 Group, Inc., a private detective agency.

843-815-0800, Ext. 14 deeanna.wilkerson@blufftontoday.com