Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Trafficking in the U.S.

Victim warns about human trafficking
October 16, 2012
By RAYMOND L. SMITH - Staff reporter ( , Tribune Chronicle |
WARREN - Theresa Flores acknowledges that she is lucky to be alive.

At 15, Flores was forced into the life of a sex slave after another student tricked her into his home, where he drugged and raped her. The boy then used photos of the assault as blackmail to coerce the teen to go to hotels and homes to perform sex acts with a variety of men.

Today, Flores, a successful author, social worker, mother and a Columbus resident, travels the United States talking about human trafficking, its consequences on the young girls involved, and ways to slow its growth.

Human trafficking victim Theresa Flores shows a bar of soap on which a number for other victims to call for help is attached to the wrapper.

Flores spoke Monday night at the Warren YWCA as part of a program sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Coalition on Rescue and Restore and the Y.

More than 100,000 American children are being trafficked, and Ohio has the fifth-highest number of young people involved, following California, Texas, Florida and Minnesota, she said. More than 1,000 children in Ohio are trafficked and more than 3,000 Ohio youth are listed as missing.

"Human trafficking is the second-leading crime in world and in the U.S.," Flores said. "More than 20 percent are men and boys."

Ohio has a large trafficking population because of its excellent highway system, the number of truck stops, large immigrant population, number of strip clubs, military bases and its large university system.

"You can get on the highway and travel out of Ohio in about two hours from just about anywhere in the state," Flores said.

About 62 percent of exploited children are tricked into it by another person; 35 percent are pushed into by a family member; and 3 percent are kidnapped.

Jessica Porter of Hubbard said, "I was aware of child prostitution and human trafficking was happening in the U.S., but was not aware of the extent.''

Ronda Leitch of Howland says she was impressed with Flores' courage and her presentation.

"Awareness is the answer to finding the beginning for finding the solution of this problem," Leitch said.

Kathleen Quintin, 14, of Niles said she knows girls who have faced some of the same situations that Flores described.

"It is happening to girls my age," Quintin said. "It is really, really scary."

Telling her story, Flores said she lived in an upper middle class neighborhood in Detroit. An Irish Catholic girl, Flores was not supposed to date or be with boys.

One day, well-dressed, suave boy who paid lots of attention to her and who was a study partner offered her a ride home.

"It was not a date," she said. "It was a ride."

Instead, he mentioning that he had to pick up something up at his house. Once there, he convinced her to come in, where he drugged her, then assaulted her.

"My mistake was not telling my parents when I got home," she says. "Over the years, my mother told me if I had sex, I would get pregnant and they would kick me out. I did not want to pregnant and homeless."

The boy came back with photos of the assault and told her if she did not "buy" them back, he would send them to her father's job, to others in the community and to her church.

"My father was earning more than $100,000 a year," she said. "I didn't want him to lose his job. The church was my sanctuary. I didn't want to lose it."

So Flores began sneaking out of her home at night, meeting with the student, who took her to clients.

"Sometimes, these were homes of the men. I don't know how the wives and the children did not hear my screams," Flores said.

The men involved would show up at Flores' fast-food restaurant job, follow her home, and call her while she was at baby-sitting jobs.

"If I said anything they said they would kill my family," she says.

Flores said she dropped from being a happy, A student, to one who was sleeping in class and getting D's and F's.

Flores says she does not like the description of child prostitution.

"There are no child prostitutes. They are being trafficked. They are slaves,'' she said. ''No child wants to be taken somewhere to service 5, 10 to 20 men a night."

Flores has helped to create a program which places bars of soap in hotels, at conventions, at sporting events and political conventions. The wrappers of the soap have a telephone number that the victims can call to get help in getting out of that life.

Flores is advocating changes in laws so that the johns and the pimps are arrested and given stiff sentences.

"When police arrest the women, their pimps just bail them out," she said. "We have to dry up the demand."

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