Look inside prostitution stings in Horry Co.

Published: Jul. 30, 2012 at 5:54 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 30, 2012 at 10:00 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Law enforcement agencies in Horry County say prostitution is a crime that often leads to drugs, assaults and even murder. Only WMBF News cameras were rolling during a Surfside Beach prostitution sting last Thursday.

"Can you tell us what happened up there," asked WMBF News Anchor Michael Maely to one of several suspects in a prostitution sting.

"Bite me. I don't have to tell you nothing," responded the 53-year-old suspect. She was one of five total, who are unhappy and under arrest, after a sting which started hours earlier.

Police say a website called Backpage.com may be to blame. Officials add it's the preferred site to set up sex-calls, after the adult section of Craigslist was shut down.

"You've got adults and escorts. Click on that and you've got escort, euphemism for prostitution," said Surfside Beach Police Chief Mike Frederick.  "We've been tracking them without them knowing it, 15 or so and of those, we really hope to get six or eight to commit to the deal."

Chief Frederick teams up with an area hotel, also eager to discourage the crime, he takes only WMBF news up the very stairs the suspects will come down, we see the rooms they'll use.

Room one, the undercover officer's room, is outfitted to look lived in, with pizza boxes, vodka and some surveillance items you don't see.

"This room is where we're running the show," said Frederick referring to the second room which gathers audio and video for evidence, but it's also for the undercover officer's safety.  "In past operations we've had to go in and rescue officers who are being assaulted or whatever," Frederick warned.

After a quick meeting with the assisting officers back at the station, units are set up back at the hotel, waiting for the undercover officer's call to get a response. The first suspect, a 22-year-old female, has spent a year turning tricks she says, but before she goes to jail, she agrees to talk.

"It started out as something I needed to do. Either that or I would be sleeping on the beach," reasons the woman. "A lot of crack-head girls do this; I'm not a crack head girl. There's a lot of reasons people do this, but drugs would be the main thing behind it."

The suspect explains that even a steady job wouldn't help take her away from the fast money of prostitution.

"I guess just a secure place," says the woman of what would make her stop prostituting. "Just really having the things that I want to get me by, you know? I could go get a job at minimum wage, but I wouldn't even have enough to pay my rent. You see the easy money, and it's hard to turn down."

However, that woman does admit, the easy money sometimes, isn't.

"I've been choked, drugged, raped, robbed, everything you could imagine, bad. I've almost died doing it. I've almost died doing it a few times," sighs the suspect. "It's a lot more scary when you got a guy chocking you out, wondering if you're gonna live or die. It's not worth it; it's not worth your life, it's not."

With the obvious dangers behind every door, the suspect couldn't explain why she's willing to risk her life for the fast cash.

"I don't know, I really don't. It's not worth it. I'm not a dumb girl. I'm really not," she pleads. "I've just made some dumb decisions in the last year."

Similar decisions were apparently made by at least 70 woman arrested in Myrtle Beach last year for prostitution. There have already been roughly 35 arrests this year, with many of those arrests made on Yaupon Drive.

"I can't say that it's not frustrating, but I will say that that is something that we've become accustomed to," said Myrtle Beach Police Spokesman Lt. Doug Furlong.

Myrtle Beach police target prostitutes with stings as well, and they say the websites play a key role in their efforts.

"There's no doubt that we've made cases and good cases ending in convictions, based on these websites operating," claims Furlong. "If they are out there, we're gonna respond to it."

Meanwhile, on the prostitution sting ride-along with Surfside Beach Police, officers arrest a 19-year-old suspect who police say lives with her parents in Conway.  But it's not just teens.  One suspect, who at first did not want to talk to the WMBF News cameras, would later explain she is 53 and was only offering a massage.

"I'm not hurting anybody, and I've not committed prostitution. I got up there to give the guy a massage and I never said anything about sex. He had a condom out; I didn't," she said.

Police explained the suspect planned to charge $200, and the woman justified the steep cost based on the convenience of her traveling to customers.

"Yeah, because it's the convenience of being in your room. That's all I offered, but they're charging me with prostitution; innocent until proven guilty," she said.

The female who drove the woman to the sting location, also under arrest, claimed her friend had nothing to do with the night's activities.

"My friend's definitely not a prostitute. She makes crosses. She's married. I lied to her and said I had to pick up a phone. She had no idea what I was doing and they arrested her for prostitution," said the suspect.

By around 4 a.m., word of the sting gets out, and the calls grow cold.

"For the last hour we struck out about 20 or 30 times, and they just hang up on us and every time they get a Surfside address pop up on their computer, we want them to think twice," said Chief Frederick.

In all, police say two suspected drivers, one of them illegally armed, and three suspected prostitutes go to jail.

"We didn't solve the prostitution problem in Horry County tonight, but we solved it in our area for two, three or four weeks. It's like a maintenance issue. Like not cutting the grass. If you don't cut the grass, eventually it gets to a point where you can't cut the grass. It's overrun," warned Chief Frederick.

A second warning goes to the potential customers, who police want to realize what you see online is often nothing like what you get.

"It's a faceless person in a call center, doling them out. The hot girl on the website is replaced with the knock on your door with the 200 pound goon with the gun. A lot of these victims don't contact law enforcement for obvious reasons; it's just a dangerous business," said Frederick.

Just as dangerous for the girls too, but some continue to gamble with their lives, despite the potential penalty of death.

"It could kill ya. Yeah, it really could," confirmed one of the suspects.

But the temptation of quick cash seems to extend beyond the fear and threats the suspects face when responding to a call.

"Sadly, I can't [say I'll quit]. I hope I can," lamented the suspect.

Copyright 2012 WMBF News. All rights reserved.