Greenville County, SC

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Greenville County is the most populous county in the state of South Carolina, with a population of approximately 534,000 residents. Its government seat is Greenville, SC. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in Greenville County, in the city of Greenville, in surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of the county. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. For example, in 2012 an Upstate man was arrested for child sex trafficking in Greenville. The sex trafficker’s arrest was the result of a prostitution investigation in which officials believed to have identified two child sex trafficking victims, ages 16 and 13, through ads found on websites known for prostitution. Undercover officials arranged to meet the teenage girls, posing as potential sex buyers. According to the arrest warrant, the sex trafficker had responded to undercover officials online and had transported the girls to the location where detectives from the Greenville Police Department had set up the operation. The girls were intercepted after offering sex acts to undercover officers in exchange for money. The sex trafficker was charged with three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, two counts of pimp/aid or abetting prostitution, and two counts of promoting prostitution of a minor. He was held at the Greenville County Detention Center on a $30,000 bond.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office has been conducted reverse stings for decades, but the date of when they first began is unknown. However, the Greenville Police Department, amongst other local agencies, have been conducting reverse stings in the county since at least 1989, if not earlier. In a 1991 GPD operation, 12 male sex buyers were arrested by undercover female officers, in addition to their encounters being videotaped. Identities of arrestees – including names, ages, and photos – are routinely released to the media. Many of the arrests occur in the I-85 and Pelham Road area, known locally as the “strip” for street prostitution. Through 2012 we had acquired information about 12 separate reverse stings that resulted in the arrest of 114 sex buyers, but more of these operations have been conducted up to that point, and afterward. More recent operations have leveraged the internet to conduct reverse stings focusing on those seeking commercial sex with adults, as well as with sexually exploited and trafficked children. For example, in September 2018, a joint undercover and online sting operation in Greenville resulted in the arrest of 10 male sexual exploiters and 11 male sex buyers. “Operation Intercept” was led by the Greenville Police Department under the direction of the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, in addition to the Greenville County Sheriff’s OfficeRichland County Sheriff’s OfficeSpartanburg County Sheriff’s OfficeYork County Sheriff’s Office, and Florence County Sheriff’s Office, in addition to participation by the Mauldin Police Department and the Simpsonville Police Department. Undercover officers posed as prostituted women and communicated with potential sex buyers online, while another team initiated online conversations posing as a 14-year-old girl, to identify individuals seeking to sexually exploit children in exchange for money. A Captain with the  Greenville County Sheriff’s Office said that as soon as they posted online, the response was immediate.

In addition to apprehending sex buyers and sex traffickers through reverse sting operations, officials have also arrested sex buyers through alternative measures such as, citizen tips to police, brothel raids, traffic stops, investigations of other crimes, police or witness observations, and/or from prostitution and sex trafficking investigations. For example, in 1991, deputies from the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office conducted a raid at three different properties after receiving a tip that the prostitution activity was potentially occurring on the properties. Officials used cameras to videotape information from informants in order to execute search warrants. A total of seven individuals were charged and five were arrested as a result of the investigation. In addition, investigators seized photo copies of the sex buyers’ driver’s licenses, business records, and a personal computer. The individuals were charged with money laundering amongst other federal offenses. Many of the prostituted women at the brothels were from Tennessee, allowing officers to charge the offenders under federal laws.

Employment Loss:

Loss of employment is also a consequence of sex buying in the county. For example, in 2019, a former pastor at Palmetto Baptist Church and a former Taylors’ P.E. teacher were two of 27 men arrested during a web-based reverse sting conducted by the Greenville Police Department called “Operation May Day.” In the investigation undercover officers posted decoy ads on websites known for prostitution and arranged meeting with potential sex buyers. All 27 male sex buyers were arrested and charged with soliciting prostitution upon their arrival to the predetermined location. The former pastor had been employed at the church since 2010 and as a result of his arrest, his biography was removed from the church’s website and is assumed to no longer be employed by the church. The former P.E. teacher had been employed by the Greenville County School District for 19 years, and according to a statement from a spokeswoman for Greenville County Schools, the former Taylors Elementary P.E. teacher was placed on administrative leave as a result of his arrest. The identities and photos of arrested offenders were included in reports by local media outlets.

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interview (2012)

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Arrests:

Sex Buyer Arrest, Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

  • Prostitution – An Institution? (1975)
  • “Sheriff: Not Enough Manpower, Harsh Penalties to Curb Prostitution,” CBS/WSPA-TV 7, April 2 2008.
  • “Greenville Sheriff’s Arrest 28 People in Prostitution Sting,” CBS/WSPA-TV 7, February 27 2009.
  • “Liberty Woman Charged in ‘Escort’ Crackdown,” Easley Progress, May 20 2009.
  • “Greenville County Trying to Crack Down on Illegal Escorts,” CBS/WSPA-TV 7, August 4 2009.
  • “More than 50 Arrested in Greenville County Prostitution Roundup,” CBS/WSPA-TV 7, October 5 2010.

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

State South Carolina
Type County
Population 533834
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