The Bridge 2 Home working to meet housing need for child sex trafficking victims in S.C.

Nov. 12—After Dominique Bunton spent many years working at the South Carolina Department of Social Services , moving child sex trafficking victims around from foster home to foster home, she felt like she could do more.

Once she saw the victims weren't getting the help they needed, she devised a solution: Open a home that caters to their needs.

"Working with the agency, it felt like I wasn't addressing the problem in terms of housing these children, in terms of providing stability so they can begin to address the trauma they have gone through," Bunton said. "Through addressing the trauma, the behavior can be addressed."

Bunton is in the process of opening The Bridge 2 Home, which will serve as a safe house for girls who are victims of sex trafficking throughout South Carolina.

The home will serve six girls between the ages of 12-17 and will have a 24/7 trauma-informed team providing trauma assessments, mental health services and forensic interviews.

"It doesn't seem a lot, but that is six lives that can be impacted and bring stability, too," Bunton said.

Bunton said the mission of The Bridge 2 Home is to provide a safe and loving home for children and youth sex trafficking survivors, so they will be able to find growth and heal from the trauma.

The new home will work with DSS to identify child sex trafficking victims.

Bunton said if a child isn't placed in a safe house, DSS takes custody of the child and the child is placed in foster care or group home. Bunton said the constant home placements doesn't give a child time to heal.

The Bridge 2 Home will be special because not many homes serve girls who have been human trafficked.

"I could do more of an impact in opening up another home," she said.

The only other safe house that serves sex trafficking youth victims is in Charleston; it only has 10 beds available with a waitlist, said Kathryn Moorehead, director of Violence Against Women Act and Human Trafficking Programs at the South Carolina Office of the Attorney General.

A total of 236 children have been reported as victims of sex trafficking based on state data from January to December 2021, Moorehead said.

The S.C. Human Trafficking Task Force was established in 2012 in South Carolina to determine the mainline of the problem of human trafficking, as well to provide support to victims, supporting investigations and preventing crime in the state, Moorehead said.

Not new

Bunton said child sex trafficking is not new and has been going on for a long time. She said more people are willing to talk about it.

"We can't protect them if we don't know what the monster looks like," Bunton said.

The Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County serves abused and neglected children, and it also serves child sex trafficking victims.

Maryann Burgess, the Child Advocacy Center executive director, said the agency receives children who have been trafficked or who potentially have been trafficked from law enforcement or DSS.

"It is definitely part of our community, and we are tying to increase the awareness and recognition of child sex trafficking in the community," Burgess said.

Burgess said child sex trafficking victims face a lot of dangers and risk factors, which can effect their emotional, mental and physical well being.

Burgess said some signs of sex trafficking victims include children from abusive and neglectful homes, lack of adult support , low self-esteem, running away, being absent from school, sleeping in class, a change in behavior and if a child looks scared while an adult is speaking with them.

More awareness

Burgess said the opening of The Bridge 2 Home safe house will be a good asset to the community because the need is there, and it will provide victims some healing.

"It's needed in our community; throughout South Carolina, there aren't many places for survivors of sex trafficking," she said.

Bunton said she has vision to open up two homes, one for children and another one for adults to be used as transitional housing for 18-year-olds.

Recently, The Bridge 2 Home had two successful fundraisers, but Bunton said they are still short of the goal of $200,000 in order to open the home and be licensed by DSS. The $200,000 is the six-month budget which will include pay for employees' salaries and food at the home.

Bunton said the yearly cost for the home will be $400,000.

"We must continue to get the word out and get people to donate," she said.

Once society recognizes and becomes more aware of child sex trafficking, then hopefully, the community will be open in talking about it, Burgess said.

"We've got to be able to talk about it in our churches, in our school, homes, and talk to our kids about it," she said. "If we're not talking, somebody else is, and somebody else is going to be looking at the vulnerable kid and saying I got her."


—National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888.

—United States Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign: 1-866-347-2433.

—South Carolina Human Trafficking Taskforce website: