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Activist speaks on global sex slavery

Kaitlyn Rabach | Sunday, April 22, 2012

Human trafficking survivor and activist Theresa Flores said in a lecture Friday that there is no such thing as child prostitution by federal definition and that people often use the term to describe what should be called modern-day slavery.


“We must start using the right terms and see these children as victims,” she said. “So often, these children are trafficked, but they are viewed as child prostitutes who have a choice to be in the industry. They do not have a choice. I did not have a choice.”


Flores delivered a lecture at Saint Mary’s April 20 titled “Human Trafficking from the Inside-Out: A Survivor of Trafficking tells her Story.”


She began her lecture by defining human trafficking and stressing the importance of educating others about the issue.


“Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, or transportation of a person by force, fraud, or coercion,” Flores, who was sponsored to speak by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Social Work Department and Justice Education Department, said. “We must know this definition. We cannot protect our children, siblings and friends if we are not educated on the issue.”


Flores told her personal story of growing up in a suburb outside of Detroit, Mich., where she was trafficked out of her home.


“Each night, my trafficker would pick me up around midnight and then drop me back off in the morning,” she said. “My parents had no idea, and my traffickers threatened to hurt my family if I ever told anyone.”


She said people often do not realize the size of the global human trafficking industry.


“This is not a sex talk,” Flores said. “This is an economic talk. People all over the world are being trafficked because it is bringing in big bucks for the traffickers. It is an industry and people need to understand that.”


Much of the lecture focused on domestic trafficking. Flores said 100,000 Americans are currently being trafficked in the United States and that each year, an estimated 20,000 individuals are trafficked in.


Flores said she believes the main challenge in fighting this issue is changing society’s mindset.


“People do not think of it as being a problem, because they do not understand what constitutes trafficking,” she said.


Flores said she believes the increased emphasis on sex in 21st-century society is the root of sex trafficking in the United States.


“We will never make this problem go away if we do not address the demand of men buying sex,” she said. “Look around, sex is everywhere these days. It is normal for our children to be surrounded by sex. It is in our music, our shows; you cannot even go to the grocery store without seeing magazines advertised around it.”


Flores said pimps are even misrepresented by popular culture, sometimes in a positive light.


“People see a pimp as a man with money and cool cars,” she said. “They should see a pimp as a rapist, felon and trafficker.”

She said anyone, regardless of race, age or social status, is vulnerable.


“College students are very vulnerable to being trafficked,” she said. “We need to be outraged in our country about this issue and stand up against this crime.”


Flores encouraged everyone in attendance to tell two other people about human trafficking and its effects. She said she hopes everyone in attendance would join the modern day abolitionist movement.


“I hope it rivets you enough to do something about it,” Flores said.


Sr. Ann Oestreich, congregation justice coordinator for the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and Saint Mary’s junior Cailin Crowe worked together to plan the campus events surrounding Flores’ visit.