AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — Documents filed in the 2nd Judicial Circuit are shedding light on the growing problem of human trafficking in Aiken County.
After leaving her abusive husband and father, the plaintiff identified as “A.P.” was traded to a sex trafficker after arriving to Aiken after a man she considered a “friend” told her that she deserved better. “A lot of times you’ll hear about sex trafficking when it’s a big bust and there are like 12 people involved and like countless victims, but a lot of times human trafficking and labor trafficking can happen and very small numbers and they go unnoticed,” Andrea Miller with the Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons said.
Several incidents that took place at motel’s around the Aiken area are outlined in the criminal complaint. Four times at the Ashley Motel, three different dates at the American Hearth Inn, and least five different dates at the Kozy Kort Motel.
Documents suggest the owners knew or should have known for several years that sex trafficking repeatedly took place on their property. The defendants generated revenue from the rate charged for the rooms where the plaintiff was sex trafficked, the document stated.
According to Miller, hotels and motels are a common venue for sex trafficking, due to ease of access, ability to pay in cash, and secrecy through a number of means. “The other thing with hotels, a big thing to notice is if there are outdoor entrance for the rooms. If they’re not like enclosed in a building and the rooms have outdoor access, that’s a huge thing to look out for because it provides a lot more freedom for the guests to have people come in and out of the rooms,” she said.
State officials have their eyes closely on the growing issue. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office started a human trafficking force task force comprised of more than 300 different agencies across the state, including some in Aiken, to get to the root of the problem. “What we’re working on here locally is identifying resources that are available to our community here, Co-Chair of the Second Judicial Circuit Task Force of the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force Capt. Maryann Burgess said. “We might have resources that are able to help us in Columbia but we really need local providers so we are working with the state task force, our local people here within our circuit to identify those resources that are available and work toward getting resources that we can use immediately because we just don’t have everything we need,” she added.
Meanwhile, Andrea Miller said that human trafficking is a crime that may never end. “It’s only going to keep growing because it is a reusable resource. So unlike drug trafficking, which is one-time use only with human trafficking, you’re using human beings so they’re kind of a reusable thing. So the more that we can get the word out about how prevalent it is without scaring people, I think is really important.”
She offers the following tips to look out for in case you believe someone is being trafficked. “Somebody who is very controlling over the people who they’re with. If you notice that one person’s doing all the talking, the other people are not allowed to engage at all. The age of the guests is very important. A lot of times human trafficking victims can be younger,” she shared.
“They need to be aware of their surroundings. I think that’s first and foremost,” Capt. Maryann Burgess added. Our taskforce placed human trafficking posters in hotels, lobbies, and businesses around the area take a minute and read those posters because it helps you learn to identify what it looks like,” she said.
Shawn went to all three motels to get comments from the owners.
At Kozy Kort, once finding out he was from NewsChannel 6, the employee refused to answer any questions. At both American Hearth Inn and Ashley Motel, employees offered to take Shawn’s contact information but said that management wasn’t available.
Meanwhile, if you need help, you can contact staff members with the Cumbee Center 24/7 at (803) 649-0480. The biggest thing, we’re told, if you suspect somebody of human trafficking or labor trafficking, call the police.
If you aren’t comfortable with that option, call the Human Trafficking hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888. You can also text 23373 for help.