COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – South Carolina’s Human Trafficking Task Force is looking for ways to fight the growing problem, with one idea being to require all school children in the state to be taught about it.
Attorney General Alan Wilson says, “I think one of the things I would like to see come out of this task force is we have mandated curriculum, age-appropriate curriculum for all elementary, middle, and high school students as it relates to human trafficking. Obviously, the way you’re going to talk to an elementary student is going to be different than you talk to a high school student, but a lot of the victims, and unfortunately some of the traffickers, come out of the school systems in South Carolina.”
That’s something Heather Cook can relate to. She was pulled into human trafficking when she was just 14. An older man wooed her by making her feel special and told her he could take her away from an unhappy home life.
“I left home, followed him and he ended up sexually exploiting me shortly thereafter,” she says. “So then it became a place where we needed this, we needed that, I had to work for this, I had to do that. So that was when I was 14. So that went on for years.”
What allowed her to finally get out was going to prison for some of the crimes he’d gotten her involved in. That separation allowed her to break free.
“When I sit in rooms like this and I say to myself sometimes, ‘Wow! What if the awareness and what if it had been raised when I was 14 years old? What could have been prevented in my life?’”
She’s now helping other victims, and says she’s excited about the local and state efforts to fight human trafficking.
Wilson says the curriculum for students would have a couple of benefits. “So that we’re educating kids about what to look for in human trafficking, how to identify it when they see it in a friend, or how maybe even to identify it when it’s themselves,” he says. “Lastly, for those kids who are in high schools and in colleges who are doing the trafficking, I want them to see those presentations knowing that people are now looking. Hopefully that will act as a deterrent effect.”