Author, The Slave Across the Street (2010)
Founder of S.O.A.P (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution)
Appointed to the Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission in 2009 and testified before the Ohio House and Senate in supports of Human Trafficking Legislation
Recognized by Ohio Governor Kasich and received the Courage Award for her work in human trafficking
Her story was on The Today Show & MSNBC and SOAP has been featured on Nightline and America’s Most Wanted
BA, Ball State
MSeD, University of Dayton
The Sex-Slave Across the Street
HOW AN ALL-AMERICAN TEEN FELL PREY TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Theresa Flores grew up as an All-American girl in an upper-middle class family. But when her father’s job moved her family to an upscale suburb outside of Detroit, she simultaneously lost her virginity and became a victim of human trafficking. The nightmare started when Theresa was 15, and a male classmate offered her a ride home. Since she had a crush on the boy, she accepted the offer. But instead of driving her home, he took her to his house where he proceeded to drug and rape her. The next day, the boy told Theresa that his older male cousins had taken pictures during the sex-act and that she would have to “work” the pictures off. It was sexual blackmail, and the beginning of two years of heinous sexual exploitation.
Classmates and teachers alike feared Theresa’s perpetrators. They were not questioned when they pulled her out of class during the day. And since she had a private phone in her room, her parents didn’t notice when the cousins called her at night and demanded that she come outside, where the boy who raped her waited to drive her to a converted basement. There, she would be raped by up to ten men. “You couldn’t look them in the eyes. I wasn’t permitted to speak, not even one word. This one guy came in one time and he asked one of the cousins, ‘What’s her name?’ And the response really crushed me; I mean even more than having to do those physical acts, because he said ‘It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t have a name.’ And I think I just wanted to die.”
The cousins always knew where Theresa was and threatened to take her life and her family member’s lives if she said anything. So, she wouldn’t talk. Her parents never knew: her father was a big executive and travelled a lot; her mother never heard her sneak out of the house. When Theresa’s grades dropped dramatically, they blamed it on hormones and sent Theresa to a counselor, where she kept quiet. She was worried about her reputation and didn’t think anyone would believe what was happening anyway. Most importantly, she didn’t want her father to know about the blackmail pictures. “I believed stupidly that I was going to be good enough to get them back and then it’d be all over and I could go on with my life again.” But before that happened, she was taken to a dirty motel where she was brutally raped by upwards of 20 men. When the police found her and drove her home, she refused to speak. Finally, her father got a job transfer, and Theresa’s time as a sex-slave ended. She received a few of the blackmail photos back and was replaced in the crime-ring by another needy, unsuspecting teenage girl.
THE LONG ROAD TO HEALING
Theresa started over in her new high school, and acted like nothing had ever happened. She graduated and then went to college, where she started drinking excessively and became promiscuous. She had horrid nightmares and frequent flashbacks. She felt worthless and tried to talk to counselors, but nobody knew how to help her. One counselor suggested she lock all of her bad memories in a box in her mind, but she feared one day the box would explode open. She kept a journal, and after graduating from college, she married a man who said she needed to earn his trust. She realized that she was always trying to “earn” something: her father’s approval, blackmail pictures, trust from her husband. But she couldn’t--she was never “enough.” Even though she had attended church and had prayed throughout the trafficking, her relationship with God changed when her uncle invited her to a Bible study. After she read the “Left Behind” books, she accepted Jesus as her Lord and savior. “Everything changed. I felt just the weight of the world lift off of my shoulders. Like I didn’t have to fight so hard and work so hard. He would take care of me, always. Here I’d been sacrificing myself all these years to various people, to save my (more)
family, save myself from embarrassment or shame. And I didn’t need to do that.” Theresa says that if she had known Jesus while she was a sex-slave like she does now, she would not have allowed the abuse or let her need for love and approval mandate her life. Today, because of God’s love, she knows her worth – but she continues to struggle with memories.
“It’s something that I work on everyday. There are still triggers, there are still nightmares.” She says her strength to endure the hard days comes from the Lord. “I want people to know that even when you’ve been broken and you’ve gone through traumatic things, you can be healed through Christ. That’s the only way you can be healed.”
HOW MEN GET INVOLVED WITH SEX TRAFFICKING
Theresa says most people “tend to think the blame is on the kid or the person being trafficked. They think ‘Oh, they must just be a bad kid, or they must have bad parents.’ They are not looking at, ‘Well, who’s the guy who’s buying them?’” It’s been reported that many men who buy girls start out with a pornography addiction.” As far as pornography goes, what typically happens is a man will start looking at porn magazines and then that elevates his brain chemistry. Then after awhile that becomes normal and it doesn’t do it. Then he starts watching porn on TV or movies. And that elevates the excitement. But after awhile that doesn’t do it and then he gets prostitutes. Then after buying a woman for awhile, that doesn’t do it, so he gets younger and younger girls.” Theresa says human trafficking victims have a 40% higher chance of death than the common person. Most commonly, victims die from murder, suicide, or drug overdoses.
SEX TRAFFICKING AT LARGE EVENTS LIKE THE SUPERBOWL
Any time a big event comes to a community there is an increase in trafficking, especially if the events are driven by male attendance—i.e.: the Detroit Auto Show, the PGA Golf Tournament, political conventions, and the Superbowl. Kara Van de Carr, executive director of Eden House, a home for trafficking victims in New Orleans says, “The Superbowl is actually estimated to be one of the largest human trafficking events in the world and it's because anytime there is increased demand, there will increased supply." During major events pimps bring in girls from across the country. They often stay in extended stay hotels for about a week. They take pictures of the girls they’ve brought in and post them online, lying about the girls’ ages. While a classified ad may say a girl is 19 or 21, in reality she could be 12. The men attending events are looking for something to fill their time. “They’re there with their buddies, and we know that separation leads to temptation when they’re away from their wives and their friends,” says Van de Carr. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates 10,000 prostitutes were brought to the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami. In 2011, more than 100 people were arrested for prostitution in Dallas during Superbowl weekend. Last year in Indianapolis, legislation was put into effect to curb the crime. New laws extended the definition of sex trafficking and increased penalties. There were also new training recommendations for hotel employees and cab drivers. Experts say red flags include young girls dressed inappropriately, who seem quiet, insecure and avoid eye contact. They also say it’s suspicious when a girl checks into a hotel with no luggage.
All eyes will be on New Orleans with this weekend’s Superbowl 47. Advocates say trafficking is a problem in the New Orleans area year-round, as it's an easily accessible city known as a tourism destination. "Between federal law enforcement here in New Orleans, state law enforcement, non profits, there are a lot of people coming together,” Van de Carr said. “They recognize this is an issue. There have been multiple trainings, conferences, and there are people coming in to actually combat the problem." There may even be legislation put into place to combat the crime in New Orleans.
THERESA’S MINISTRY “S.O.A.P” (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution)
Theresa started S.O.A.P to reach girls in motel rooms. “I remembered that after each man, you go to the bathroom and clean up. And that’s the only time you ever get to be alone. And I thought, ‘I will give the number to them in the bathroom.’” She and countless volunteers label soap with the national human trafficking hotline number (888-3737-888) and distribute the soap to motels. Between 77 and 90% of the motels take the soap and receive training on red flags to watch for. S.O.A.P has been responsible for rescuing several girls from each event they’ve distributed their soap at. S.O.A.P will be at the Superbowl with FREENola, a task force in New Orleans.
HOW PARENTS CAN PROTECT THEIR CHILDREN FROM TRAFFICKING
One study estimated up to 300,000 children in the U.S. are victimized by Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) each year.
As a mother, a licensed social worker for 20 years, a victim’s advocate, and a member of the Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission, Theresa offers advice to parents and teens. “As our children grow, become stronger and independent, do not relax your guard. This is the time to have hawk eyes and finely tuned radars. Listen to the unspoken messages of the child.” Among other things, parents should find an activity they can enjoy with their teen, ask questions, listen, know who their children spend time with, check their beds each night, know the address of where they are going, have teems carry identification, visit a child’s school on occasion, watch out of older boyfriends, look for bruises or forms of physical abuse, sudden changes in behavior, unexplained absences from school, references to the commercial sex industry.
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