GREENVILLE COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – Towering over Interstate 85 near exit 56 stands a warning on a billboard for all eyes to see: ‘Traffickers are targeting kids on the internet. Know who you are chatting with.’ A photo of a girl using a cell phone is next to the words.
A second billboard overlooks Highway 290 near Reidville Road in Spartanburg County.
“Keeping kids safe is important to me,” said Dr. Dena Rapp, Founder of Rivers of Justice. “Our mission is to prevent children from becoming victims of sex trafficking.”
The retired educator founded the local organization in 2012, and said the group wanted to display the billboards
“It’s a major means of recruiting,” she said. “It happens to kids who are honor students, kids who have dropped out of school. No kids are immune from traffickers.”
She said it doesn’t matter where you live, either.
“It’s happening in small towns, it’s happening in big cities,” she said.
‘SWITCH’ fights human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the Upstate.
The attorney general’s office actually put out a report this past january that Greenville is the largest county in the state for human trafficking,” said SWITCH executive director Zaina Greene. “A lot of that is because we’re between Atlanta and Charlotte – Atlanta being the number one city in the country for human trafficking.”
Experts say parents can use apps to track their child’s location. Rivers of Justice recommends restrict app downloads, become their friend or follower on social media, and link their downloads to your email.
“We’d like to think that our kids wouldn’t fall for it but these people are so manipulative,” said Rapp.
According to the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, the overwhelming majority of all victims are trafficked by an intimate partner, friend, of family member and rarely a stranger. Deputies said a larger number of local victims have been recruited in all or in part on social media / chatting apps, and that it is far more sinister that traffickers manipulate victims they already know, using force fraud or coercion into sex trafficking.