Meet Betty Houbian and Patty Jackson, Modern Day Slavery: Human Trafficking

By Leslie Moore

More than just a magazine, Sasee is a community of women (and men). Most months we like to keep things lighthearted and fun, giving you a break from your everyday life.

But not this month.

Recently, I met with two courageous women who are working to eliminate a horrible crime that happens daily in our beautiful community. A crime that affects all of us – regardless of your race, religion or socio-economic status. This crime is human trafficking.

Betty Houbion

When I was researching an article about human trafficking, a name kept popping up. Betty Houbion is the Advocacy Chair of the Zonta Club, Myrtle Beach, and a driving force in the fight against human trafficking. Betty’s efforts have led to new laws severely punishing those who enslave others for gain and the buyers of services these trafficked people provide.

“Human Trafficking is a business, a big business,” Betty began. “It earns 150 billion plus dollars annually worldwide. It’s a high revenue, low risk industry – a person has a shelf life of 7-15 years and can be used over and over.” Betty told me most victims either die from their abuse or are murdered when they’re no longer useful. They are forgotten, but for those other than criminals, they are not throwaways. The fortunate victims found become survivors, to meld eventually into a life of some normalcy. Thanks to Law Enforcement Advocates, Witness/Victim Specialists, Victim Service Providers and healthcare professionals, victims move out of a trauma-imposed shell to find their own propriety, destiny, and above all, dignity. They become survivors. They begin to thrive on their own, as their lives become that of post-traumatic outgrowth.

Betty stressed that although most victims of sex trafficking in South Carolina are over the age of 30, we must look at the big picture. It is not only women who are trafficked. This industry enslaves men, women, boys and girls in domestic servitude, labor without compensation and sexual exploitation. The housekeepers at the luxury hotel, the landscapers at a golf course – any of these workers may be being coerced or threatened into working long hours without pay. Many of the traffickers are members of criminal gangs which now have a huge presence in South Carolina.

Largely through Betty’s tireless efforts, South Carolina now has much stricter laws governing human trafficking. “I had worked with a similar organization in Illinois, and when we moved here in 2005, I discovered there were no laws on the books against human trafficking,” Betty remembers. ‘It took a lot of work getting our message out to legislators, but in 2012, a fairly complete law was passed. The state can now seize all of a trafficker’s assets, as well as prosecute both the trafficker and those who purchase services provided by trafficked human beings. Most importantly, South Carolina also has a vacating law for victims of human trafficking, and a safe harbor law for minors exploited by traffickers. This law ensures that minors will move from court to victim service provider, and not be thrust back out into the street to be preyed upon again. Plus traffickers will be sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole. We can stand proud. Now, we need prosecution of the more than 100 open cases throughout the State.”

I asked Betty why people didn’t just run away from their captors and was surprised by her answer. “It’s hard getting women away – a runaway teenager may have come from a much worse situation, and they don’t want to leave – it’s a form of Stockholm syndrome. Laborers are being threatened with harm to their families or intimidated through manipulation of official documents, like passports, green cards, etc. Traffickers prey on the vulnerabilities. As one pimp said ‘I offer them dreams.’ They give their victims another identity. Click! They are literally trauma-bonded, unrecognizable.”

Betty continued with this hair-raising story. “Recently we were able to prevent a 17-year-old from falling into the hands of a man who had just been released from prison for human trafficking. He found this girl online, romanced her, sent her a pearl necklace, and had arranged to meet in person. Fortunately, her mother was watching her text messages and found out who he was. She called the FBI and was able to save her daughter. All of this happened on the same day – if her daughter had met this man, there’s a good chance she would never have seen her again.”

“Right now we have a good opportunity to stop this crime in South Carolina. There are regional taskforces made up of local citizens throughout the state. Everyone needs to become aware – you don’t have to do much to have a major impact. In our area we have the Coastal Regional Human Trafficking Task Force which serves the Pee Dee and Grand Strand area. It’s free to join. Awareness is the trailhead to prevention.”

Patty Jackson

Elegant and lovely, Patty Jackson seems the type of woman who would be more comfortable dressed to the nines and attending a gala than talking about the horrors of human trafficking. Instead she is the Co-Chair of the Coastal Region Human Trafficking Task Force, giving many hours of her time each week promoting awareness and working behind the scenes to stop this crime.

“Every human being should be interested in knowing about human trafficking – and becoming so aware they can see it and hopefully save a victim or prevent an innocent person from being victimized,” Patty began our conversation with the hardest statistic to comprehend, “41% of children victimized in South Carolina are being trafficked by a family relation. Elementary, middle and high school students are coming to school every day trying to act normal when they’re enduring unimaginable horrors at home, inflicted by someone who is supposed to love and care for them. The fact that children are being sold for sex is reason enough for every person to stand up and use their personal and professional realm of influence to stop human trafficking.”

There are also criminals, gangs and mafias targeting boys and girls, 10-16 years of age, to sell them as sex and labor slaves. The most vulnerable are runaway or homeless children who have no food to eat or a place to sleep. Also, at high risk are children with big troubles at a young age in the social service, foster or juvenile justice systems. Children with loving, caring parents are also at risk if they happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. As an example of why parents need to be informed and cautious, Patty continued with a shocking story about a family who let their teenage children spend the afternoon at an amusement area and Uber back to their hotel. “After an afternoon of fun, the teenagers waited for Uber, and when a car pulled up they got in. Immediately, they realized this was not their Uber when the real Uber driver pulled up behind the car they were in and texted them to get out. Because the Uber driver followed closely, honking and flashing headlights, the driver let the children out of his car.”

I was curious how Patty got involved. “I read an article written by South Carolina Attorney General, Alan Wilson, about human trafficking. I was shocked by what I learned and realized I have to do what I can do to help. Innocent people are becoming victims.” Patty continued. “Kathryn Moorehead is the coordinator of our South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force for the Attorney General and when they began organizing a task force in our region, I became involved.” Patty’s background is in organizational structure, so this work is perfect for her. “Organizing a task force with state defined strategies, consisting of twelve subcommittees, with hundreds of volunteers from Horry and Georgetown counties, to reach every public and private sector of the Coastal Region of South Carolina with human trafficking awareness and education, is sort of like organizing a small country,” Patty laughed. “We have a dynamic leadership team representing law enforcement, health care, business, education, civic, faith-based, and government organizations.”

Patty insists we can all help if we are alert to the people around us and know how to assess a potential human trafficking situation. This next story shows how one observant individual saved a life. “This individual was having dinner in a restaurant and noticed a man walk in with a young girl, obviously not his daughter, and watched as he ordered a beer and shots,” Patty began. “He drank the beer, but pushed the shots to the girl. Without hesitation because of previous human trafficking awareness training, the observer knew how to assess and report this scenario. Within a few minutes, law enforcement arrived and took both the man and the girl away. As it turned out, this young girl who had just arrived at the airport, alone, from another country, and picked up by this older man, is a scenario of international human trafficking. Internet connections and electronic arrangements have moved sex and labor slavery just under the surface of where we live our lives every day.”

***

Because of my time with Betty and Patty, there are several things I know we all can do. First, if you can, volunteer. Call the phone numbers at the end of this article. If you can’t volunteer, invite Patty to speak at your civic group, your church group, your garden club…wherever caring people come together. And, if you see someone you believe is being trafficked, call 888-373-7888 or text 233733 (BEFREE). You’ll be connected to Homeland Security to say what you have seen and will never have to testify or be contacted again. Of course, if you see someone being kidnapped, call 911 and then call or text these numbers. If you are a victim, please text 233733 and you will be rescued, taken to a safe place and provided help to get your life back. Don’t give up, there is hope.

We can all do something.

Contact Betty Houbian at bhoubian@yahoo.com or call 847-373-4158. Contact Patty Jackson at pattyjackson719@gmail.com or call 937-867-4802.

On JULY 25th and 26th,a FREE human trafficking training opportunity is available in our region! Developing a Community Response for High Risk Victims of Child Sex Trafficking and Exploitation will be held at Horry Georgetown Technical College/Conway Campus. Get in touch with Betty or Patty for more details.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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One Response to “Meet Betty Houbian and Patty Jackson, Modern Day Slavery: Human Trafficking”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Thank God for these women and for you for reporting on such a horrifice subject.

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