HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) – Horry County leads the state in human sex trafficking reports but has no official resources.
Once a survivor escapes their trafficker, finding a safe place to go within South Carolina state lines is nearly impossible.
Each year hundreds of survivors call the National Human Sex Trafficking Hotline looking for help.
“When you’re dealing with sex trafficking and having been rescued from that atrocity, there’s just a different dynamic that you’re dealing with. Their pain and their anger and their hatred,” said Chuck Coward, director of Doors to Freedom.
Federal officials who work with survivors say more resources are greatly needed. “We all want to see more safe places for our victims, safe houses, safe shelter,” said Clarissa Whaley, Victim’s Advocate for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
While Horry County has the most reported cases, it has no shelters. The closest is Doors to Freedom, about 100 miles away in Summerville.
However, the organization only serves minor girls. “There are only 10 beds in the home. Those beds pretty much stay full. If a girl moves out of a bed 24 to 36 hours, there’s another girl that’s moved in, typically from a group home where they are on standby,” said Coward.
Coward says 12 to 17-year-old survivors are housed for at least six months.
State funding supports their tuition and resources include:
- Housing and food
- Professional counseling
- Healthcare screenings and services
- Private schooling on campus
In 2019 the organization served 17 girls. Three graduated high school and some enrolled in college.
Kat Wehunt survived human sex trafficking and knows the trauma full well.
“At 14, this older relative sold me for the first time. He took me to this house and, um, sold me to three men that he owed something to. Little did I realize, like that was going to be the next three years of my life,” said Wehunt.
She founded the Formation Project, the first survivor led non-profit in the state that helps adult women.
The organization works to give women trauma support, emergency shelter, and direction to survivor services.
“It’s about your safety which is the number one most important thing. The healing process is 100% up to you, and you have so many people out there waiting to support you,” said Wehunt.
Both organizations rely on state and private funding to stay open.
Coward says the long term goal is to expand services out of the lowcountry and into underserved areas, like Horry County.