Trinity Mount Ministries

Monday, January 14, 2019

"A family member was trading a child for rent': Familial sex trafficking a problem in the Upstate

By: Kirsten Glavin

Upstate advocates talk Human Trafficking Awareness:

GREENVILLE CO., SC - She was a straight-A student with parents in law enforcement.

Growing up, Cat Wehunt said her family was close, but looking back on her life, the 26-year-old could not remember a time where sexual abuse didn't exist in her life.

"I knew that I felt violated, I knew that my body felt violated, but I just didn't know how or what it meant or why it was happening to me," she explained.

Wehunt told a crowd seated at Greenville Health System Thursday that at 12 years old she was raped, and at 14 she had been sold for sex by her older cousin.

Although he was her trafficker, she said she still trusted him because he was family.

"These are the people that are supposed to take care of you, these are the people who are supposed to protect you and know the most and are closest with you, so you already have that bond."

Wehunt's situation is common in South Carolina.

In 2016, familial trafficking was the most common form of relationship between a trafficker and victim in the state, according to the Attorney General's Office.

"We do see a number of cases where family members are trading children," said Jonathan Bastoni, task force officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and sex trafficking investigator at the Greenville County Sheriff's Office.

"We've worked at least 2 in the last year, one where a family member was trading a child for rent."

Bastoni has helped coordinate large-scale, multi-agency prostitution stings like 'Operation Millstone' in February, where 7-News exclusively went undercover to capture investigators taking traffickers into custody.

Last year, the county's sex trafficking unit said they made 19 arrests, and added that they are now just starting to see traffickers go through the court system after the human trafficking law first went into effect 6 years ago.

"We're beginning to see how our judges will interpret this law and what kind of sentencing we are going to get for this, and we obviously hoping that they'll give good sentences that are applicable to the crime," said Bastoni. "But we're beginning to see that, and that's kind of exciting to look forward to in the future."

Jasmine Road is an organization in Greenville that offers services to sex trafficking victims and provides help.  On their website, they say they "offer women who are trapped in a cycle of sexual exploitation and addiction a path to freedom, a haven for healing, and the opportunity to flourish, leading to generational change and the betterment of our Greenville community."

For more information, click here:

Switch is another local organization that helps fight human trafficking in the Upstate and provides services to victims. On their website, they say: "Since 2012, we have led the effort to fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the Upstate of South Carolina. We have spoken to over 21,000 community members and have served over 115 individuals on the road to restoration."

For more information, click here:

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