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Survivor discusses human trafficking, abolition movements

| Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Theresa Flores is the founder of Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P) — an organization that puts the number for the human trafficking hotline on bars of soap.

Saint Mary’s hosted Flores, an author, award winner and social worker, on Tuesday night to share her personal story as a survivor of human trafficking and discuss ways to work towards eliminating the issue in today’s society.

Flores said she didn’t realize she was a survivor until she was 40-years-old, with a family and a job in social work.

“I had heard about this human trafficking conference from a coworker of mine. She couldn’t attend and said I should go,” Flores said. “… Within five minutes of sitting in that seat, I realized I had found my calling. I never knew what it was called that happened to me. I had never healed.”

That moment was the start of a 10-year career working to educate and empower those working to end human trafficking, Flores said. She shared her story of how she was forced into sex trade as a teenager.

Flores said she was raped and blackmailed by boys from her high school for two years. Then one night, she said she was taken by several men to an underground criminal ring.

“They beat me, drugged me and took me far away from home,” Flores said.

Flores said the men took her to a hotel where she was auctioned off to several men all through the night. She said she awoke the next morning, sick and vulnerable, and mustered the courage to leave.

“I know if I had not have left there that morning, I would not be speaking with you here tonight,” Flores said.

Flores said she walked into a nearby diner and talked to an elderly waitress who asked her if she needed help. She then called the police.

About 100,000 kids are being trafficked around the world, Flores said, and 3,500 kids go missing each day.

“Human trafficking is the second leading crime in the world,” she said. “80 percent of victims are women, 20 percent are men and 50 percent of all victims are children.”

A common misconception is that human trafficking doesn’t happen here in the United States, Flores said, or that most victims are kidnapped, like the popular movie “Taken.”

“I was trafficked right in my own community,” she said. “Only 3 percent are kidnapped; 35 percent [were] trafficked because [of] a family member selling them and 62 percent [were] trafficked in the United States because they [were] tricked.”

Most victims are coerced from public places like libraries, supermarkets, rest stops and truck stops, or through social media, chat-rooms and Craigslist, Flores said.

“It’s happening anywhere around you. Anywhere kids are,” Flores said. “If victims are not found in the first 48 hours, it’s very likely they will become trafficked.”

Many guests stayed after to ask Flores questions about her experience, her work with victims and what they can do to help.

Saint Mary’s alumna Adriana Petty, who has written her own book on human trafficking, “From Price Tag to Priceless,” said she thought Flores’ presentation was moving.

“I think her story is something provoking — how she was approached and how she was preyed upon and groomed, this is something that is very common,” Petty said. “[Trafficking] doesn’t start off with a frightening first encounter — it’s pretty general and non-threatening from the beginning.”

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