Furman Students Warn Against Potential Sex-Trafficking Scheme at Local Wal-Mart
On Tuesday Aug. 25, Furman junior Savannah Hobbie went grocery shopping at the Travelers Rest Walmart Neighborhood Market, where she may have encountered a human trafficking scheme.
Hobbie explained that while she was in the Walmart, she was approached by a man wearing a bright green collared shirt. He was too close for comfort and Hobbie quickly moved to another part of the store.
Later she encountered the same man, but this time he was with two women in their mid 60s. They seemed to insert themselves in her way, causing the same uneasy feeling she had before. She checked out quickly and rushed to her car.
Hobbie then saw a man wearing what looked like a Bluetooth earpiece who was talking in a hushed tone, standing at the car parked next to hers. She proceeded to throw her groceries in the car, hop in and lock the doors. She was afraid the man followed her, so she drove in the opposite direction of where she lives.
In an interview with The Paladin, Hobbie stated, “I kept questioning if I was being dramatic, but regardless, from now I am not going to shop alone or will ask a worker to walk me to my car.”
After sharing her experience with her father, she decided to report it to the Greenville Sheriff’s Department and the Walmart. Both took her name, number, and statement and said they would investigate.
Since sharing her story on her social media, four Furman women, past and current students shared with Hobbie that they have experienced similar events at the same store. Sophomore Madi Grogan had a similar interaction at the Travelers Rest Walmart in October of her freshman year. Grogan and a friend felt that they were being followed and watched by more than one person. Since the incident, which left Grogan feeling anxious and scared, she has not returned to the Walmart without the company of several people.
Furman Chief of Police John Milby told The Paladin, “Regarding the recent off-campus incident, we did not uncover any evidence to suggest this was attempted sex trafficking.” Still he noted that preventing crime is a community effort and the Furman University Police Department (FUPD) was thankful the Furman student took time to report the incident. Chief Milby also offered some general safety tips: trust your judgment, notify FUPD if you feel like you are in danger or if a person or situation is suspicious, and be alert to your surroundings and the people around you. Students can also use the LiveSafe “SafeWalk” feature to allow a contact person to virtually watch you on a real-time map.
Greenville has the second highest rate for human trafficking victims in the state of South Carolina, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Hobbie and Grogan shared their stories in hopes of raising awareness and preventing similar occurrences from happening to someone else in the Greenville area in the future.