OKATIE — South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said his office is getting ready to crack down on human trafficking.
A new state law against human trafficking gives his office more tools to fight selling people for sex or labor, Wilson told a Friday meeting of the Lowcountry Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
One part of the new law requires police officers to ask women arrested for prostitution if they are working against their will. Anyone who is being forced into the sex trade will not be prosecuted, Wilson said.
The law also expands who can face criminal charges or civil penalties for assisting in human trafficking, meaning prosecutors can go after businesses such as massage parlors, storage units or tanning parlors that allow prostitution to go on at their establishments.
“We’re going after everybody. Not just the johns and the pimps, but the people who have legitimate businesses as a front,” Wilson said after the meeting.
Wilson’s office hasn’t prosecuted anyone yet under the new state law, but the attorney general said the first case probably isn’t too far away.
Along with strengthening prosecution, Wilson also wants to raise awareness in the state about human trafficking.
He said it just isn’t poor women being blackmailed after being brought to the United States illegally, like a recent case involving three men who pleaded guilty in federal court to bringing women who were in the U.S. illegally from Atlanta to Aiken County for more than three years to sell sex to Aiken County farm workers.
Middle-class women end up being forced into the sex trade too. Wilson recalled a story he heard at a recent conference of attorneys general about a woman who was drugged and raped when she was 15. The men who raped her took pictures and threatened to show them to others and harm her family if she didn’t become a prostitute, Wilson said.
“She was going to church on Sundays and being sold during the week, right under everyone’s noses,” Wilson said.