Megan Madercic is a mom now. Her son, Carson, is the light of her life; but every now and then the dark past creeps up. Memories of Megan’s childhood haunt her.
“It likes to just show up, knock on your front door, and boom,” she explained to News 2’s Rebecca Collett.
Megan’s past starts in a quiet apartment complex off of Trolley Road in Summerville.
“I went from a sober straight A student to a target,” Megan remembered.
Megan was 16-years-old when her neighbor offered her a fast, easy way to make money. She knew she could help her mom pay bills. “She took me to her house and took pictures of me, and a man showed up,” Megan explained. “I was young and naïve.”
Before she knew what was happening, she was sucked into making drugs and eventually forced to have sex with strangers. “The first call, it was this old man. I was horrified by it. I’m still horrified by it.”
Megan was isolated from her family. She also became hooked on heroin and meth. She says she didn’t know where to turn or how to get away.
In 2011, the days and nights ran together and every day was a different bed or hotel room for Megan. She earned hundreds of dollars every night, but she couldn’t keep any of the money. It was a no-holds barred existence.
“It was ruthless,” she explained. “You could do what you paid for to where I was unconscious and there were still people doing whatever.”
She says her faith kept her alive.
Investigators arrested Booker Vanderhorst in 2013. He was charged with Sex Trafficking Children among other things.
Under the leadership of Attorney General Alan Wilson, a task force was created to target traffickers like Vanderhorst. Last year, authorities provided services for roughly 155 trafficking victims, according to a first of its kind report from the AG’s office.
Assistant United States Attorney, Nathan Williams prosecuted Megan’s case, and he says the biggest misconception is that these victims are from far off places. Megan is from Summerville.
“Most hear of human trafficking they envision people from third world countries in container-ships,” Williams said. “That’s not the reality of what we see. What we see is people with vulnerabilities being exploited.”
He said often that vulnerability is youth.
Right now he’s prosecuting two cases similar to Vanderhorst’s.
In one case, police raided a North Charleston hotel. According to court records, Damon Jackson was holding three victims against their will. He advertised sex with them online. One of the victims told police she couldn’t eat or sleep until she made $500 at night. The victims were forced to smoke crack and couldn’t use cell phones or keep any of the money.
In 2012, South Carolina passed legislation making human trafficking a felony on the first offense.
Williams says traffickers operate just like business owners. They market through the internet and use other women to monitor and coordinate the victims and Johns.
But to stop traffickers, Williams says more services must be in place to support victims so that victims can come forward and move on with a place to live, clothes, food and counseling.
Dee Norton Lowcountry Children’s Center is one support for children sold for sex. Last year, counselors helped five local girls who ranged from 13 to 17 years old. Some were rescued from their own parents selling them for drugs and money.
Through counseling, the children can move forward with happy lives, according to Dr. Carole Campbell Swiecicki, Executive Director.
She says more must be done to train police, teachers, and child protective services agents.
DNLCC was awarded a 5-year grant of $20,000 per year from the River Oaks Foundation to address the issue of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. According to the Center, grant funds will be used to conduct training with key child-serving professionals like law enforcement officers and social workers. Through these training sessions, participants will learn to better recognize victims and to utilize the inter-agency response protocol developed by DNLCC’s Task Force. The money will also be used for a part-time program coordinator who will conduct the training sessions, field referrals, and coordinate services for victims.
Research shows that children with histories of child maltreatment are at increased risk for child sex trafficking, and our region has a disproportional high rate of child abuse investigations and child maltreatment cases, according to DNLCC.
Another organization supporting victims is Doors to Freedom. Case management; victim advocacy; individual counseling and mentoring; life skill development; continuing education and vocational training; transitional care; clothing; and connection to legal services.
For Megan, moving forward is an act of God.
“I know what it’s like to be that timid person and not know who to turn to,” she said. “But I’ll keep saying it. There is God. I can say that God has restored me today.”
And she prays God will reach Booker Vanderhorst in jail too. He’s serving nearly five years in a Texas prison.
Megan hopes to one day open a shelter for children with stories like her own. She wants to offer them the same support she found with the organization A21 and support from Seacoast Church. A21 provided food; clothing; transportation; education; mental health; physical health; life skills; mentor-ship; employment help; and support through legal proceedings to seven survivors in 2015.