Talk on human trafficking offers tips to keep kids safe

TAYLORS—Prince of Peace Church recently brought one of its own, South Carolina’s lieutenant governor, to talk about human trafficking, a societal scourge that she and the parish’s pastor are passionate about ending.

“As parents, we need to know what we need to look for,” to protect children from the ongoing threat of human trafficking, Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette told nearly 200 parents, grandparents, young adults and teens during a three-hour seminar March 7 sponsored by the parish office of catechesis and evangelization.

Joining Evette was Beth Messick, executive director of Jasmine Road, and Sgt. Mike Ramey of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.  

Jasmine Road is a Greenville-based nonprofit that works to heal, empower and employ female victims of human trafficking. Sgt. Ramey is an investigator in Greenville County’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit. He and his K9 officer, Queue, sniff out cell phones, thumb drives and microSD cards in prosecuting cybercrime cases involving young people.

Evette, who is a parishioner at Prince of Peace, said Greenville’s location on Interstate 85 places it right in the middle of an active human trafficking corridor that runs between the hubs of Atlanta and Charlotte. 

The Greenville area’s growing economy and population is another factor that lures traffickers, Messick said. Greenville County ranked second in the number of reported human trafficking incidents in South Carolina in 2019, according to the annual report from the state Human Trafficking Task Force. Horry County ranked first in the report, with Richland, Dorchester and Charleston counties filling out the top five behind Greenville County. 

Messick said parents can protect their children and loved ones from traffickers by:

* reducing “risky behavior”;

* being mindful of the dangers of trusting strangers;

* recognizing signs of unhealthy relationships;

* speaking out when something doesn’t seem right;

* using social media wisely.

Sgt. Ramey called out the mothers and fathers of young children, challenging them to “be a parent.”

“Ultimately, it comes back to the parents,” he said. “You have to be in your child’s life.”

According to TraffickFree, a national organization that monitors domestic sex trafficking and is a source of information about the issue, 77 percent of all child trafficking victims will go on to participate in adult prostitution. It also points out that the average age of entry into child prostitution in the U.S. is between 12 and 14.

Angela Calabro, director of the catechesis and evangelization office at Prince of Peace, said Father Christopher Smith, pastor, is familiar with Jasmine Road’s mission and suggested they come to speak.

In a recent letter to the parish, Father Smith challenged people to be mindful of the breadth of human trafficking in the community. 

“During the season of Lent, part of our almsgiving this year as a parish is to understand better the real situation in our own backyard, of very sad dynamics happening in broad daylight that often bring poverty, misery and a disintegration of people, families and societies,” Father Smith said. “The more we know, the more we can actually give as a church in a way that protects, defends and elevates all of God’s people.”