GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – Human trafficking is a multi-million dollar business and law enforcement officers across South Carolina are working to put an end to it by educating those who work with the public — teaching them what to look for and what to do once they see it.
After 24 years on the road as a truck driver, John Mefford says he’s seen a lot.
“I’ve seen girls in the truck stop. Hopefully they’re not doing what i think they’re doing,” Mefford said.
And in some cases they are.
According to investigators, many times traffickers will frequent places with a lot of traffic, like rest stops, hotels and gas stations.
“If we can get more and more people on board that can catch that and see what’s going on, we can identify more victims,” Sgt. Jonathan Bastoni, with the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, said.
Bastoni works with the Human Trafficking Task Force at the sheriff’s office and says it’s about money, sex and power, and said the industry is fueled by supply and demand.
Officers say the average customer is white male, middle aged, college educated with disposable income. The supply comes from runaways, homes in low-income areas, as well as affluent neighborhoods.
Zaina Greene is the executive director of a nonprofit called SWITCH.
“The average age of entry is 11 to 16 years old for human trafficking,” Greene said.
SWITCH works to educate the public on prevention, intervention and restoration, hoping to make people aware that this issue is finding it’s way into all sorts of industries.
“The public needs to be aware not just on the truck driving side, that this is a big deal in this country,” Mefford said.
It’s also a big deal for the thousands of men and women who find themselves caught in that world.
The 2013 law passed in South Carolina says anyone who is forced into labor or commercial sex by force, fraud or coercion is a victim of human trafficking, and if you need help, it’s there for you.