‘You’re trapped’: woman says she was sex trafficked as a teen out of Columbia motel

"You're trapped," woman says she was sex trafficked as a teen out of Columbia motel

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Jan. 10, Attorney General Alan Wilson will release the 2019 Human Trafficking Annual Report. He’ll be joined by South Carolina’s First Lady Peggy McMaster along with several other leaders in our state’s anti-human trafficking movement.

One Midlands woman is an example of just how real this problem is. The now 18-year-old says she was sex trafficked in Columbia when she was only 15-years-old. To protect her identity, her face was hidden and her voice was disguised. She says she knows how important it is that she tell her story.

The woman, who chose not to give her name, said, “I just don’t understand how people can be okay with hurting a person like that and change a person mentally, physically, emotionally forever just because of greed.”

In her early teenage years, the survivor says she was having trouble with life at home and started hanging out with the wrong crowd. This includes a group of older men she once trusted as friends, whom she says drugged her one night. The next thing she remembers, she says, is waking up in a motel.

For the next nine months, she says she was the victim of sex trafficking in Columbia and several other parts of the state until she was able to escape.

A Midlands private investigator and advocate for human trafficking survivors, Chandra Cleveland, who works with Columbia Investigations and Security Consultants, says it’s important that we all know what sex trafficking looks like, and understand that it’s happening close by.

“It’s going to take all of us to get involved with sex trafficking. So many years now here in the state of South Carolina, we’ve been talking to the adults and no one has been talking to the children. So, therefore, they’re falling prey to these predators out here who are making false promises to them,”Cleveland said.

In honor of Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Cleveland is hosting the inaugural Sex Trafficking and Awareness or STARS Conference where community members can join the conversations on ways to put a stop to human trafficking. The event is happening Jan. 11 at the Trinity Education and Community Conference Center on Richland Street in Columbia.

The annual Human Trafficking report released last year in South Carolina revealed there had been 13 people charged and 64 cases closed involving sex trafficking in 2018. These numbers were signs of progress for the state, which was recognized for being the most improved state in combating this issue.

However, as more survivors begin to speak up about their experiences, the state recognizes that there is still more work to be done.

The survivor who agreed to anonymously share her story says during her time of captivity, work was nonstop. She says, “We got no days off. It was what they wanted to do to me, when they wanted to do it, based upon somebody else’s approval for the right price.”

Leaving is never as simple as it may sound, according to this survivor.

“You’re trapped. You can’t go anywhere. You can’t do anything. You fear for your life. You fear for your family’s life. You’re scared. That’s all you know, after a while. That’s what you feel like you’re worth. That’s what you feel like you deserve for whatever messed up reason in your head. Leaving isn’t just getting up and walking out. It’s never that simple. Ever,” the survivor recalled.

She says that even though she was able to escape, her perpetrators are still out there and could be hurting more victims. She wants other young women to learn from her mistakes.

She says, “Sometimes, vulnerability is what you can get you in that situation, looking for love, but opening your heart up to the wrong people and trying to run away from your problems, instead of facing it, can get you in a really, really deep situation that may find yourself not being able to get out of.”

The 2019 Human Trafficking Report will be released at 10:00 a.m. Friday at the State House and will highlight efforts across the state to prevent and prosecute these crimes.

Copyright 2020 WIS. All rights reserved.