GREENVILLE Co., SC (WSPA) – It’s a growing problem that law enforcement is trying to keep up with.
The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office spent more than 6 months gearing up for the biggest prostitution sting the county has ever done.
“Operation Millstone,” a wide-scale prostitution sting in conjunction with the Greer Police Department, lead to more than a dozen arrests over a two week period.
7 News was able to go undercover with officers during one day of the sting.
During the operation, several officers posed online as female prostitutes, while other officers posed as men looking to pay for sex, known as “John’s.”
“They’re doing it because they have to. It is a choice of desperation,” said Martine Wildder, a Communications Director at the Greenville County Sheriffs Office.
Master Deputy Jonathan Bastoni of the Greenville County Sheriff’s office is the only full-time Human Trafficking investigator in the state of South Carolina.
“There’s something that happens in somebody’s life that it brings them to feel like this is their only option, the only option they have,” he said.
Bastoni was the lead investigator on “Operation Millstone,” spending hours interviewing alleged prostitutes, “Johns” and sex traffickers.
“The ‘Johns’ and the girls are taking this risk and the pimps are benefiting… and that’s a particularly ugly side of this,” he explained to 7 News.
Roughly 49% of human trafficking cases in South Carolina are from Greenville County, according to the South Carolina Attorney Generals office.
According to Bastoni, sex traffickers are coming to Greenville County at an alarming rate as the area continues to grow.
He explained that with downtown Greenville becoming a travel destination for businessmen staying in hotels, the demand for paid sex has increased.
With that demand comes incentive.
Pimps are willing to travel, according to Wilder, who said they’ve seen sex traffickers bring girls up from Atlanta and down from Charlotte.
“These girls wouldn’t be making the money if there wasn’t a demand,” she said. “And here in Greenville County, we can’t even keep up.”
In Operation Millstone, the Greer Police Department was able to make 2 arrests for trafficking persons, according to Bastoni.