Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Human Trafficking in Ohio

By: Nick George, The Columbus Foundation

In Ohio, 1,000 American-born children are forced into the sex trade each year. Do not be fooled into thinking this is like the movie Taken. Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry worldwide and is the largest growing criminal activity in the world. Columbus’ Theresa Flores is a survivor, author, social worker, and advocate working to put an end to this horrific criminal industry.

Theresa Flores tells her story to Columbus Foundation donors during a recent Your Philanthropy event at the Foundation.

“This is not a sex issue. This is a economic issue,” Flores said.

Listening to Flores story will make you cry and hearing the statistics will shock you. During high school in an upper-middle class suburb of Detroit, she was drugged, raped, and tortured over the course of two years. She was kept in bondage and forced to pay back an impossible debt.

Flores tells her story as a 2011 TEDxColumbus speaker:

“Nobody had any idea this could be happening to a kid like me. Who would have ever thought? And I wasn’t telling because they threatened to kill my brothers,” Flores said.

Flores’ bravery and willingness to tell her story is truly remarkable. It gives light to a subject and industry that thrives by remaining in the dark.

“I was able to escape. Most don’t,” Flores said.

Flores was appointed to the Ohio Attorney General’s commission on the study of human trafficking in 2009. She received the Courage Award from Governor Kasich for her efforts to end human trafficking. She has told her story on Nightline, America’s Most Wanted, The Today Show, and MSNBC. Now a social worker, she has published two books, The Sacred Bath and The Slave Across the Street and runs her outreach program, S.O.A.P. through the Columbus nonprofit Doma International.

Learn about S.O.A.P in this brief video:

“This is an issue we need to stop being quiet about. For 20 years I thought I was the only one, but there are a lot of Theresas out there,” Flores said.

The size of this industry and its’ dynamics are likely to surprise you.

“We believe Ohio is the fifth leading state for human trafficking.”

“Thirteen is the average age of children forced into the sex trade in the United States.”

“100,000 American youth are being trafficked right now in the U.S.”

“350,000 American kids are at risk of being sexually exploited.”

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