New report shedding light on human trafficking in Aiken County

Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

A new report is shedding light on human trafficking issues in Aiken County. (Source: WRDW)

AIKEN COUNTY, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- A new report is shedding light on human trafficking issues in Aiken County.

As of a month ago, there were 68 human trafficking cases pending in South Carolina state courts. Sixty-nine percent of those are in Aiken County, according to the state Human Trafficking Task Force.

[EXTRA: 2019 South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force Report]

What’s being done about this problem? There’s actually an area task force working on this with law enforcement and community groups. One of those groups is seeing victims first-hand.

Jessica Coach, the director of the Cumbee Center in Aiken, sees pain in the eyes of trafficking victims. It’s part of their mission.

"We make them feel safe because they haven't felt safe in a very long time,” Coach said.

Three sex trafficking victims walked through their doors of recovery in the past year.

"I think it's an issue everywhere, and we're no different,” said Capt. Maryann Burgess.

Capt. Burgess is the co-chair of the area task force against human trafficking.

A state report released Friday shows 69 percent of pending cases in South Carolina came from Aiken County. However, it's really one big case where three people were charged with 47 counts of trafficking.

“We are getting better as law enforcement here in the county at recognizing it, being able to respond to and prosecute those, and hold them accountable,” Capt. Burgess said.

Capt. Burgess says new training has officers looking for signs on every call.

"We need hospitals, churches, daycares, teachers -- everyone needs to be aware,” she said.

Those aware need to be looking for changes in behavior from the victims themselves.

"It could be as simple as having their nails done where they didn't have it before,” Burgess said.

South Carolina reported nearly 700 trafficking victims in 2019, and they're all around us.

"Law enforcement just can't target human trafficking,” Burgess said. “It has to be a community-based effort for it to be effective."

Our area's task force is made up of Aiken, Barnwell, and Bamberg counties. Interstate 20 is a major corridor for trafficking, officials say, so this issue stretches across the CSRA.

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