COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) – Human trafficking is often called modern-day slavery.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson continues to combat human trafficking with a task force aimed at preventing and prosecuting these crimes.
Last year, South Carolina was recognized as the most improved state combating human trafficking by Shared Hope International. Shared Hope International releases a report card each year regarding the status of each state.
Friday, Wilson plans to announce what improvements our state made in 2019 with the South Carolina Human Trafficking annual report.
A woman from Lexington County who experienced human trafficking says many people think human trafficking only happens in other countries or states, but that’s not the case.
“It’s in our homes. It’s in our neighborhoods. In our kid’s schools. In our churches. It’s happening everywhere. And I’m here where it happened to me at,” Heather Pounds said.
Within a matter of hours after Pounds ran away from her home in Lexington County, South Carolina in 1991, a man approached her saying he could help.
“He’s what looks like a knight in shining armor. Coming to rescue me, and a year later I was addicted to cocaine and heroin,” Pounds said.
Pounds was 14 years old. She spent the next 18 years of her life being sex trafficked.
“I was abused mentally, verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually …repeatedly, over and over again,” Pounds said
Human trafficking includes sex trafficking and labor trafficking. It usually involves three parties.
“There is a person that sells, a person that is sold, and a person that purchases,” Pounds said.
Pounds said the abuse took its toll.
“It just kind of breaks you down to where you don’t believe you can live any way else,” Pounds said.
She said she feared for her life.
“Meaning somebody would murder you, or you would die from an incurable disease or the drugs to overdose. And so the things that you are constantly thinking,” Pounds said.
She felt there was only one way that her traffickers couldn’t get to her.
“I knew that prison was going to be my way of escape,” Pounds said.
Pounds had a criminal record and was wanted for other charges.
She said when a cop was behind her at a light, she purposefully didn’t put on her blinker hoping he would arrest her, which he did.
“I knew that on August the 24th of 2008, I would never have to return back to the life,” Pounds said.
Pounds spent the next two years in prison and escaped her traffickers for good. Since 2010, she’s volunteered overseas for a human trafficking non-profit before making her way home to Lexington County.
“I came back so that I could do what I’m doing today. So I could let people know this is not an overseas thing. It’s not this state or this county. It’s our community our county. Where we live,” Pounds said.
Pounds works for Lighthouse for Life, a non-profit that helps survivors of human trafficking. It also educates the community about sex trafficking to give other survivors hope there is a way out.
She said she works to create awareness here in the Midlands about what human trafficking is, and the importance of if you see a situation that seems off to say something.
Pounds said it’s better to call the police and be wrong than to not call and be right.
In 2018, 50 percent of all human trafficking cases in South Carolina were in Richland County. Lexington County came in second with 10 percent.
When the numbers for 2019 are released tomorrow we will share that information with you on-air and online.
To report suspected human trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
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