'I was forced into it by rape and drugs:' Woman trafficked out of Myrtle Beach still recovering 20 years later

Lynn Sweetland talks with WMBF News over Skype about being trafficked. (Source: Audrey Biesk)
Lynn Sweetland talks with WMBF News over Skype about being trafficked. (Source: Audrey Biesk)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – A woman said she was trafficked out of Myrtle Beach, held captive for months, and no one was ever prosecuted for what happened to her.

Lynn Sweetland was 26 years old at the time and 20 years later, she now lives in Georgia and is still overcoming what happened. Sweetland was a former Myrtle Beach resident who said she was trafficked out of several parts of South CArolina and taken through seven other states, but said it all started in South Carolina.

Sweetland said her journey gives her passion to seek justice for others.

"Next thing I know I'm held against my will and being drugged up and gang raped," Sweetland said as she remembers the horrifying moments. "I was forced into truck stops, I couldn't get away. I had a tag-along, which is what they call the bottom "B" word. I can't say the name but they're the recruiters to watch so that you don't get away or do something stupid."

To her, it feels like a form of kidnapping.

"In my situation I met someone; he seemed very nice," Sweetland said. "I was very vulnerable, going through a volatile divorce. He talked and talked and talked, pulled that charm. It starts out as grooming; they know where to look. They go into malls and look at groups of girls who are vulnerable."

Sweetland said while she was trafficked, she was forced to write bogus checks for her traffickers to steal and pawn things. She voluntarily went to a detective years ago to report it, but said today she has an attorney through a survivor network who is still working to erase those misdemeanor charges.

"I don't care if it's a day, a week, a year or a life-long, it's an impact. It's trauma," Sweetland said.

Trafficking doesn't discriminate or involve sex trafficking only, according to Sweetland.

"It involves labor trafficking, child soldiering, pornography and drugs are the root of it," she said. "But it involves you being forced, coerced and being held against your own self."

The new South Carolina bill state Rep. Russell Fry helped write, called the Safe Harbor Bill, stiffens up penalties.

Fry said a constituent of his, Betty Houbion, approached him about putting the bill forward. After a lot of research and work with different groups, they submitted the policy for consideration.

"South Carolina's doors are not open for human trafficking and you will be punished. For victims though, we will help however we need to," Fry stated.

The Safe Harbor Bill increases penalties for those trafficking in minors and provides a safe harbor for victims who may have been charged with prostitution.

"Most importantly, it sets up a collaboration of public and private service providers to help those victims afterwards," Fry said.

The bill was a team effort between Fry, his constituent, the South Carolina Attorney General's Office and the South Carolina Committee on Children, according to the representative.

For one survivor, the hope is the bill will offer other victims a way out of the darkness.

"I was forced into it by rape and drugs," Sweetland said. "When you have your back against the wall, it's hard to look forward and say, 'I want a life,' but the true survivors out there push forward and end up having a life. The ones still hurting will hurt for the rest of their life."

The Safe Harbor bill is in S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s hands for one last signature until it is passed. To read more about the bill, click here.

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