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Human Trafficking

You’ve heard the term; you’ve read the headlines. It’s happening every day in distant, impoverished countries such as India or Cambodia. But what about here at home? How prevalent is human trafficking in the United States? Let us show you. Here is a testimony of freedom from a survivor who was trafficked in Lexington, South Carolina.

It’s happening in every state, nationwide – quickly rising to epidemic proportions. Over 100,000 minors are at risk of being pulled into trafficking in the U.S. every year. In South Carolina, there were 118 cases of human trafficking reported to the National Human Trafficking hotline in 2017 alone.  According to the S.C.A.G’s Human Trafficking Task Force Year End Report 2017 , 41% of known trafficking survivors in S.C. were actually trafficked by a FAMILY RELATION!!!

We MUST learn about this crisis and confront it head-on.

Click here to see ALL the South Carolina statistics reported by the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2017. 

lighthouse for life human trafficking


Simply put, human trafficking is the buying and selling or trade of human beings. It is generally divided between two categories: labor trafficking and sex trafficking.


Labor Trafficking, which makes up 20% of trafficking cases, is the involuntary servitude, debt bondage, slavery, forced labor or services of an individual.


Sex Trafficking, which makes up 80% of trafficking cases, is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion.

  • commercial sex act can include prostitution, pornography, or any sexual performance done in exchange for any item of value.
  • Force: beating with objects, slapping, burning, sexual assault, rape, confinement, torture, seasoning or initiation.
  • Fraud: false promises, deceitful enticing or affectionate behavior, lying about working conditions, promising a ‘better life’, blackmail.
  • Coercion: threats of harm, abuse, intimidation, emotional abuse, fear, controlling daily life skills, creating dependency.

*NOTE: Any minor engaged in a commercial sex act is a victim of trafficking, regardless of their willingness to participate in the sex act.


How does pornography play a role in trafficking?

Viewing pornography may be a solo act; however, the production of the material and the social and relational consequences of the behaviors extends far past the individual. Children and adults endure brutal rape and abuse at the hands of the pornographers and may require years of specialized therapy to heal from the intense trauma inflicted on them. The effects of pornography can skew the viewer’s perception of healthy sexual behavior and boundaries, impacting the viewer’s personal relationship with a spouse or significant other. Trafficked women and children may face an increased risk of violence or degradation due to the normalization of deviant sex acts propagated through pornography. [Shared Hope International]

What are the signs of a possible trafficker?

  • Easily jealous
  • Seems controlling or exhibits violence
  • Is significantly older than the person they are with
  • Promises things that seem too good to be true
  • Encourages engagement in illegal activities to achieve goals/dreams
  • Suggests that the know how to help make a lot of money quickly
  • Buys expensive gifts or likes to flash their money
  • Is vague about his/her profession and you can’t prove what they really do
  • Gets pushy or demanding about sex
  • Wants to take suggestive photos, encourages modeling or dancing for money
  • Makes you feel responsible for his/her financial stability.

What signs are there that a person might be a victim of trafficking?

*Please note that the following indicators should be considered together and even if more than one applies to someone you know, it does not confirm that they are being trafficked. However, if you have any concerns or suspicions about a possible human trafficking case you should report it! Call 911 and the national human trafficking hotline number 1-888-3737-888.

  • Own a limited amount of clothing, a lot of which could be described as ‘sex clothes’ or are not dressed appropriate to the climate
  • Unable to travel freely or without permission or may be escorted wherever they go
  • Cannot display any identification
  • Have little money to no money in their possession as it is collected by another person
  • Display signs of substance abuse or bruising
  • Move from city to city frequently or cannot name the place they are staying at
  • Use a ‘street’ name rather than their own
  • Hang out with older men or a secretive about their relationships
  • Say they are older than they appear to be
  • Wear excessive make-up
  • Display mood swings, fear, anxiety, anger, depression or distrust
  • Have clothing or material possessions beyond their means to buy
  • Have tattoos or other forms of branding on their body indicating ownership by a pimp
  • There are are frequent or extensive gaps in their education

Who are the Traffickers?

  • A trafficker is anyone who exploits another human being for their personal gain. It could be a pimp, gang, family member, or ‘friend’.
  • Often seen in South Carolina are ‘Romeo Pimps’. These traffickers will pose as a loyal ‘boyfriend’ and will lure victims into an emotional attachment with them and then use that connection to exploit their bodies.

Who is at risk for becoming victims?

  • While anyone can be a victim, traffickers generally seek out the vulnerable; those with low self-esteem, previous abuse or neglect, those from the foster care system, homelessness, poverty, or those who identify as LGBT.
  • A victim can be male or female and come from any race or socio-economic status. The average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12-14, however both younger and older are also at risk.

Why doesn’t a victim leave trafficking when they appear to have the opportunity?

  • Traffickers are very good at keeping their victims in bondage physically, emotionally, and psychologically. They monitor their victim’s movements and are quick to use violence against them or threats against their loved ones. Traffickers are also masters at manipulating their victims to create trauma bonds with them. This strong fear and emotional confusion helps to ensure submission.
  • Victims also often lose their identity and struggle with shame and guilt. Even if they could leave, how can they return to the life they had? Who can they trust? Who would accept them? What can they do to survive?

How does it work?

  • A trafficker builds a market out of the principle of supply and demand. They acquire victims according to their ‘buyers’ tastes in order to maximize profit.
  • While at times a trafficker might use force to take a victim, more often they will play on their victim’s emotional desires and vulnerabilities in order to establish a relationship with them. This process is called grooming and may occur over a lengthy period of time.
  • Traffickers may then use isolation, fear, violence, drug addictions, and lies to control their victim, ensuring that they will never leave them.
lighthouse for life their stories

At only 21 years old, I found myself trapped in a situation that I never thought could happen to me. Without a car and without a job, I was in search of some income. Searching the internet, I found a wonderful opportunity to become a massage therapist. The ad promised great money and, with no experience or license, I was excited to see that they would provide training. After calling and setting up an appointment, I asked a friend who was also in need of a job to go with me. The day of the interview, I got a call from the woman I had spoken to over the phone (“Donna”). She said she was in the area and offered to pick us up so we could avoid taking the bus. We agreed, and “Donna” arrived in a red truck. We climbed in and took off for our interview. We pulled up to an upscale, gated apartment community – something we were immediately suspicious of, but “Donna” reassured us that this wasn’t the business, but where they held interviews for convenience-sake. The apartment we entered was nicely furnished, well-kept and clean. Seemingly a standard interview, we handed our drivers licenses and other personal information over to “Donna”, and she went into another room to make copies. Moments later, we knew something was very wrong. A large man emerged from one of the rooms with a gun tucked into his jeans. As we sat in fear, “Boss” began to tell us that this was not in fact a job interview, but rather we were going to be making him money…with our bodies. Almost immediately, I was driven to a pink house with bars on the windows. It was at that moment when I realized exactly what was happening. I was handed white lingerie and instructed to put it on and to sit for pictures to be taken. These pictures, along with my personal cell phone number (that they had from my “interview”) were posted online as solicitation for their “massage business.” Priced by the “service” requested, we were made to give massages dressed in lingerie as well as perform various sexual acts for the men who came. In addition to this, we were given drugs and alcohol. I have no memory of sleeping or eating – or the number of days that went by. One evening, a young man came over. Before he left, he offered to take me back to hotel with him. As we had been instructed to do, I walked him outside accompanied as always by “Donna” as well as my friend and the man she had been with. Seeing an opportunity, I told my friend that this was our chance get away. Overheard by “Donna” and knowing time was limited, I ran and jumped over the apartment community wall with the help of the man who invited me to his apartment. “Donna” began to yell for “Boss,” and he ran out waving his gun as we were getting over the wall. We ran to a nearby gas station where I had previously walked under supervision for toiletries and I called the police. An officer arrived and took pictures, got a statement, and left. No follow up on the apartment I had come from and no investigation. Back at the man’s apartment, his friends confronted him on some concerning habits, gave me money and called a taxi. Because the people I had escaped from had my address from driver’s license, and personal information, I was scared to return home. My cell phone continued ringing, no doubt with more calls for “massages.” With help from friends and acquaintances, I managed to find places to sleep and get by. Eventually, someone else reported the scheme being run out of that apartment and this time, an investigation was opened. I was called for information and to testify about my own experience, as well as to identify the perpetrators in a lineup. Boss was eventually charged for pimping and pandering – not trafficking, which carries a heavier sentence. I tend to describe this time in my life as a jigsaw puzzle. It’s as if someone threw this experience on the floor in a million pieces, and returned only some of the parts to be pieced back together. I don’t have all of the necessary memories to be able to make sense of what happened. In 2015, I was diagnosed with PTSD. Camera clicks and flashes, large crowds, feelings of survivor’s guilt, dreams of being shot and of drowning – I am affected every day. With no idea what to do with my life, I was gifted with enough grants and money to put me through school at no cost to me - I later recognized this as God’s handiwork. While in school, a professor extended an invitation to attend his church, and I reluctantly attended with my daughter. Finding that my daughter loved attending and having something we could do together, we continued to attend despite that I didn’t really know what was happening. Week after week, I sat alone in the service, crying each time. In August 2013, I was saved and baptized. God’s grace had washed away all of my sins, all of my guilt, all of my shame – and while I still struggle with these at times, I know that I can run to Him in prayer. Since that point, I have made so many connections who work towards trafficking awareness and elimination. God is using this scary and trying time in my life in order to give me a purpose, and I know this purpose is to help others who have experienced this horrible phenomenon. Through my journey of healing, I have come to find many victim services are in need of additional education and service development for this particular trauma, and I know that I can play a role in filling those voids. I have already found additional healing through getting licensed as a certified victim services provider for various types of traumas. God continues to use me and my perspective to help others with their journeys forward. To this day, people still tell me to “get over it.” One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that we never “get over” situations such as these, nor can we go around, above or under them. We must go through them in order to come out on the other side stronger, wiser and with unsurpassable faith. Day by day, that is exactly what I will continue to do. –M



  • Chapin Women's Club

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