Lisa Dugan shares her newfound joy and freedom with other girls through the Hope House. (File/FOX Carolina)
GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) -
Law enforcement officers are investigating more and more cases of young women who are having their youth and innocence snatched away, forced to have sex to make money for someone else.
Investigators said South Carolina's highways and ports make it easy for traffickers to force young girls and women into the sex slave trade. And they say online exploitation is also growing.
A local group is giving victims a path from slavery to freedom for women with the help of a woman who survive the sex trade and is now using her experience to help others.
"There's so many avenues so many different ways girls get into it but there's very few ways to get out," Lisa Dugan said.
Dugan works with Hope House as a supervisor helping girls who were sex trafficking victims. She said the average age a girl is forced into the trade is 13. Dugan was 18 when she was duped into the trade, but her victimization started long before then.
"When I was young like 5, I was molested by a neighbor who abused me and gave me low self-worth and it didn't manifest itself until I became a teenager," Dugan said.
Dugan said she was an angry, rebellious and insecure teen who one day met an older man at a gas station who recognized her vulnerability.
"One of the things that drew me in was that he had all of these pretty girls around him that were dressed all nice, and had all this pretty jewelry, and they were driving a nice car and having a lot of fun," Dugan said. "At best, I thought he was some type of drug dealer. I had no idea he was a pimp."
She said the man showered her with gifts and affection, pretending to be her boyfriend. Then in a matter of weeks, he whisked her away to Chicago where she was drugged and sold for sex through an escort service.
When she called home, the man she thought was her boyfriend showed his true intent.
"He heard me say the place that I was at, and he just came out irate and started beating me," Dugan said. "Hitting me with the telephone, calling me all kinds of names, choked me and told my mom he was going to kill me, so at that point I realized I couldn't live like this anymore."
She said her pimp beat her, stabbed her and even held her at gunpoint numerous times until she submitted. And she did not see much of the $2,500 she brought in every night, getting a Nintendo 64 game, a hotel room, a lot of heroine and some new clothes.
Her escape from her trafficker came when a street preacher reached out to help change her life.
And now she's helping the girls who live at the Hope House. The girls range from age 12 to 18, coming from all across the country. She said some of them were runaways, some were kidnapped and now with her help, Dugan has given them a safe place to call home and found a way to freedom.
"I think it's awesome that I can see it already working in them at 15 and 16 years old," Dugan said. "They have a great life ahead of them. They are not going to get fooled again."
Law enforcement agencies refer sex trafficking victims to the Hope House to help them transition back into a normal life.
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