January 03, 2015 Story
Like many survivors, Theresa Flores is paying it forward by reaching out to at-risk individuals and raising awareness about human trafficking.
An all-American girl from a well-to-do white suburban neighborhood, then 15-year-old Theresa Flores was not seen as a typical trafficking victim.
Flores comments, “People think trafficking only happens in India and China. Just because you make $100,000 a year and live in a fancy house doesn’t mean that it won’t happen to your kids.”
At the time, Flores’ upper-middle-class family had just moved to Detroit, Michigan. She was an underclassman in high school and caught the eye of an older boy named “Daniel.” He quickly befriended her and invited her to his home. At the house, Daniel assaulted and raped Flores. Unbeknownst to Flores, Daniel’s cousins took photos of the incident; after the attack, the boys blackmailed Flores and threatened to distribute the photos if she did not comply with their demands. Ashamed and fearful, Flores silently endured the abuse. For two years, three to four nights a week, the boys would pick up Flores and transport her to motels or basements where their clients waited. They repeatedly drugged, raped and beat her to keep her compliant.
“The psychological torture that they put you under is nothing that an adult can even imagine,” Flores recalls. “From a kid’s perspective, it’s fear and psychological torture and shame all together. Human traffickers today, it’s not necessarily individuals using force or the threat of force. They use different types of psychological manipulation: the threat of exposure, the threat, ‘I’m going to tell your parents.’ They use all types of psychological torture to hold these girls in place.”
Flores remained silent and only escaped her ordeal when her family moved away from Detroit. For years, Flores kept this experience to herself. Today, however, she is an author, advocate and motivational speaker.
“What is important is that people become aware that this is happening in the United States, in cities and in small towns. To kids of every color, every socio-economic background, with two parents or no parents. It is vital that people understand how simply this can happen to any child.”
Flores shares her story of bondage and healing in The Slave across the Street and Sacred Bath. She’s been a guest on The 700 Club, The Today Show and MSNBC’s Sex Slaves-The Teen Trade. She has also been featured on Nightline, America’s Most Wanted and For the Record.
Other than raising awareness, Flores also engages in outreach. She is the founder of Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (SOAP). SOAP’s mission is to rescue victims being trafficked at hotels, to provide victims a number to call for help, to educate motels and hotels on the signs of trafficking and to mobilize volunteers. SOAP is a partner of BE FREE Dayton and distributes millions of bars of soap wrapped with a red band stamped with the national human trafficking hotline number (888-373-7888). Flores, along with SOAP staff members and volunteers, offers the soap free of charge to motel owners and managers whose establishments are near high-demand events (e.g., the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four and Indy 500). Flores and SOAP also offer these owners training so that they’re better able to identify and report sex trafficking.
Victim identification is not enough, and in 2008, Flores helped open a home for trafficked girls in Ohio calledGracehaven House. Today, Flores continues to share her story and empower individuals to take action against modern-day slavery.
Celizic, Mike. “Former Teen Sex Slave Says Trafficking Common.” Today.com. NBC News, 13 Feb. 2009. Web. 16 Jun. 2014.
Flores, Theresa L., and PeggySue Wells. The Slave across the Street: The True Story of How an American Teen Survived the World of Human Trafficking. Boise, ID: Ampelon Pub., 2010. Print.
“SOAP (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution).” Traffickfree.com. Traffic Free, n.d. Web. 16 Jun. 2014.
Share information about the human trafficking hotline number with the hotel industry.
HB 461 would bring Ohio law into compliance with federal law regarding trafficking victims aged 16 and 17.