A gathering held Saturday in the South Strand aimed to raise awareness of child maltreatment and human trafficking.

“We have got to tell this story about abuse and how it affects people's lives,” said Shelbia Carter Wiley at the event held at Unity Myrtle Beach Church.

The meeting was sponsored by the Surfside Beach area church and featured multiple speakers.

Recounting her own experiences as a victim of abuse, Wiley, a teacher, said forums like Saturday’s are beneficial.

She stressed the importance of educating the community about the ill-treatment of children, including in rural areas.

The organization she started last year called Engaging Minds Services seeks to provide some of this education.

Wiley noted it is key for parents to know possible signs of child abuse, how to keep their children safe and what to do when they suspect abuse has occurred.

She added hundreds of thousands of kids are victims of abuse and neglect each year in the United States.

Wiley said in many cases children who are abused are afraid to tell someone because they think they could be blamed. Victims may even blame themselves.

Angela Howell, an education specialist with the Horry County Police Department, emphasized the importance of self-defense. Courses she has taught to young and old have helped learners feel empowered and safer.

Howell highlighted the tragic nature of kids taking their own lives after bullying and abuse. She said children who experience those things might not talk about it because they feel ashamed.

Adequately monitoring one’s child is crucial, she added.

“Make that contact with your kid to make sure that you know whats happening in the kid’s life,” Howell said.

Additionally, Howell pointed out that online video games can be used to lure young people into homes.

“We’ve got to educate our kids on the dangers of going to somebody else’s house and on what could happen,” she said.

Natalie J. Darby, a registered nurse who has served as health care chair for the state Coastal Region Human Trafficking Task Force, said most states recognize four major types of child maltreatment: neglect, physical abuse, psychological/mental abuse and sexual abuse.

If abuse itself is missed, she said, a victim could end up being re-abused or even dead.

Regarding human trafficking, Darby said victims include individuals with disabilities, addicts and runaways. Victims may also be unemployed, living in poverty or uneducated.

A trafficker might be one’s acquaintance, family member or intimate partner.

Red flags to watch out for include someone continuously receiving calls or not willing to part with his or her phone.

A victim might have unexplained items or show physical signs like pale skin or bruises.

Horry County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Sherri Smith said that, when it comes to individuals charged with prostitution, local law enforcement is working to identify if the person is a trafficking victim.

The Coastal Region Human Trafficking Task Force’s co-chair said many times traffickers are people who were abused as kids.

A trafficker may attempt to take advantage of a child or young adult who wants to feel a sense of love and belonging.

She encouraged fellow parents to be knowledgeable of their children’s activity on social media, adding digital communication and websites can be used for recruitment.

Victims who are taken to different facilities may end up recruiting from those places, she added.

She urged attendees to alert authorities of any suspicious activity.

Eric Bellamy, director of program integration at Children’s Trust of South Carolina, advocated communication with elected officials.

Part of the event’s proceeds are being donated to the organization, which receives some state funding and is focused on preventing child abuse and neglect.

Anyone who suspects human trafficking or is a victim seeking services can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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