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The Slaves Next Door

Affluent suburbs are no refuge from human trafficking

By Margo Pierce · December 30th, 2008 · News
6 Comments
       

 

Five FBI investigations into human trafficking are underway in Greater Cincinnati alone. Despite that, the Ohio Legislature is getting pressure from lawyers not to pass a law that would define modern-day slavery and make it a crime in Ohio (see “De-Criminalizing Victims,” issue of Nov. 12).

More cases are out there, but the resistance of local law enforcement and the fear built up in victims by their traffickers keep this crime invisible, with slaves walking past us on the street every day.

A case in point is the story of Theresa Flores, who went from being a self-described “average American teenager” living in the Detroit suburbs to living as a slave between the ages of 15 and 17, keeping her plight secret from her family.

After writing a book about her ordeal, The Sacred Bath: An American Teen’s Story of Modern Day Slavery, having sold the move rights and agreeing to appear on the Today show in February 2009, it would seem that Flores — now living in Columbus — is comfortable talking about her past. She isn’t.

“This is the hardest part,” she says, describing how the transformation took place. “We had moved to a rich suburb and there was a bunch of different kind of kids that I wasn’t used to and I was told they were ‘off limits, you can’t date this other group.’ I was really attracted to one of the guys in that group, and I thought that was just ridiculous. I went to school with this guy. We even went to the same church.

“He asked me if I wanted a ride home from school one day. He said, ‘I need to go home to my house and get something.’ All these red flags, all the things your parents teach you, went off and I ignored them. … Unfortunately, they were accurate that day. He drugged me when we got there, just offering me a pop. It tasted funny and smelled funny but being naive … I was date raped.”

The eldest of four children in a Catholic family, Flores says there was “an unbelievable amount of pressure” not to have sex before marriage.

Her mother said that if she became pregnant she’d be kicked out of the house.

“A couple days later he told me he needed to talk to me and said that his cousins had been there during it and that they took pictures of it,” Flores says. “Being stupid, I didn’t understand what he meant. He said, ‘They want you to earn them back.’ I still didn’t understand what he meant. He said, ‘They want to meet with you and they’re very dangerous and if you don’t do this they’re going to show these pictures to your dad and everybody at school.’ Nobody would want some pictures like that posted.”

The blackmail escalated to death threats against her as well as her family. A dead bird in the mailbox was one of the many reminders. Sometimes she’d get a note telling her to leave class to “meet up” with someone, but usually it was after school or a phone call at night telling her where to go.

“I was missing a lot of school because I’d been up the whole night — I’d gotten a phone call at midnight and told to appear,” Flores says. “I’d sneak out and sneak back home around 4:30 in the morning and get two hours sleep and have to get up for school.

“What I had endured in those few hours with them was very physically abusive. It was very difficult to even walk to school the next day sometimes.”

Now in her forties, Flores only recently discovered that there’s a name for what happened to her: She was a victim of human trafficking. A social worker, she attended a conference about human trafficking two years ago. When she heard the definition, Flores was shocked: the use of force, fraud or coercion to transport, harbor, sell or employ a person for the purposes of forced servitude (see “Of Human Bondage,” issue of Feb 13).

“Here I am, an educated woman, and I had no idea what I went through was human trafficking,” Flores says. “I knew it was terrible, I knew it was horrific, nothing you could ever imagine, but I didn’t know that was what it was called. And I thought, ‘If I didn’t know that and I lived it and I’m educated, then there’s probably a whole lot of other people that probably don’t know anything about this either.’ ”

Knowing she was one of the lucky to have escaped, Flores wants the “miracle” of her survival to be an opportunity for others to learn.

“The administrators and teachers at my school were very afraid of this group,” she says. “Today they’d probably be called a gang. The teachers never confronted these guys. I had a couple incidences when school security guards saw me being shoved up against a wall or a locker and never did anything.

“The bell ringing and the teacher coming out and saying, ‘Theresa, you need to get in here for class.’ And the guys who were there with me saying, ‘She’ll be in when we’re finished with her.’ She said, ‘OK’ and went back in the class.”

Her father’s job transfer to Connecticut enabled Flores to escape plans for her to become “the girl” of one of the leaders of the crime ring and be sent out to some of their bigger clients. After ignoring that part of her past for more than 20 years, Flores is turning her tragedy into triumph.

With few people qualified to provide accurate information about human trafficking (see “It Happens in Cincinnati,” issue of Aug. 20), Flores quit her day job to keep up with the demands of worldwide speaking engagements about human trafficking: 32 speaking engagements, nine college lectures and assorted TV and radio interviews in 2008 alone.

The movie based on her book doesn’t have a release date, but Flores will appear on the Today show Feb. 12 and MSNBC will air Sex Slaves in Suburbia Feb. 14.

“It occurred to me that there was nobody speaking out about this,” Flores says. “People don’t believe this is happening … because people are afraid and ashamed to come forth and talk about it. I thought, ‘This is what I need to do. I need to show them what it looks like.’ ” �

 
 
 
 

 

 
12.30.2008 at 02:33 Reply
Ned
When you first ran a story on this topic, I was surprised and disgusted. Now, I am just disgusted with the dirty side of Ohio and attorneys who would oppose making slavery and trafficking illegal in Ohio.

 

01.06.2009 at 01:24 Reply
“The bell ringing and the teacher coming out and saying, ‘Theresa, you need to get in here for class.’ And the guys who were there with me saying, ‘She’ll be in when we’re finished with her.’ She said, ‘OK’ and went back in the class.” This is totally unbelievable. Not one teacher that I've ever had, would act this way. I think this whole thing was made up. Any teacher that reads this, should be furious about it. Of course, it's the rich suburban kids that do this kind of thing. They're the real criminals, not the victims of the inner cities. Theresa is very careful not to give any details, that could be verified. James Frey tried the same thing, but he got caught anyway. This is pure baloney.

 

01.06.2009 at 05:33
KSP, I suggest you read Theresa's book if you want more details. She is NOT holding anything back. I deliberately chose which quotes went into the article because I want readers to be able to be able to learn about this topic in a way that educates, not sensationalizes. If you to be titillated there are other options. Margo

 

01.09.2009 at 12:57
I don't want to be titillated, I want to know the name of the school where this happened, and that teacher's name. If this had happened to me, I would name as many people as I could remember. I doubt if the book has anything specific in it either. But I'll read it, just to find out!

 

02.12.2009 at 09:59 Reply
Has anyone vetted this story or person? I have heard this woman speak and read the book-so many inconsistencies in the account (i.e. "two long years of torture and rape" was actually March her sophomore year to spring her junior year, with the summer off as she worked fast food and was at the pool everyday-how do you service "thousands?" of men in 9 months, with never an STD, preg. or even an infection - no visible marks, injuriies noticed by her stay at home mom?)Maybe she "misremembers" due to the trauma, but has anyone checked with the school, the police force or reports, her parents, (who do not believe this story-she says because they do not want to admit it was happening wout their knowledge), her friends at the time? I hope this isnot an elaborate exaggeration or something, but if it is it is detracting from the very issue she is trying to enlighten the public about. If it is all true would she please answer some of the very legitimate questions that are being asked?

 

02.21.2009 at 12:47
Thank you for posing these questions. I'm trying to find an article where a 'reporter' does some due diligence. Are readers the only people with intellectual curiosity?

 

 
 
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