A silent epidemic

Human trafficking’s large presence hits close to home

By Maddie Darling, Editorial intern

Theresa Flores, an author, social worker, counselor and human trafficking educator not only projected some very sensitive yet important points about human trafficking, but also captivated the listeners with her own personal story and experience of being involved in human trafficking on March 15 in the Kehrl Auditorium at Schoolcraft College.

Prior to the event, people might have been unable to recognize the signs of human trafficking, or they assumed it does not happen in their area. One of the very first points that Flores made very clear was that human trafficking is all around; people just do not want to hear about it. Detroit, Grand Rapids and Mackinac Island are the top three human trafficking cities in Michigan. Although the data is unclear where Michigan is ranked nationally, it is still a leading state in human trafficking. Being the second growing crime in America, it is confirmed by the FBI that 100,000 kids are being trafficked and 350,000 are at risk of this. According to Flores, the average age for a child entering the trafficking world is thirteen.

Why does this happen, and why in Michigan

Theresa Flores

Theresa Flores covers very sensitive topics during her presentation about Human Trafficking

Flores explained that in order for the human trafficking system to work there must be things such as extensive highways, truck stops, easily accessible state borders, strip clubs, or colleges. If these factors are involved, it makes it very easy for exploiters to sell or transport victims. The places that Flores labeled as high risk include nail salons, truck stops, bus stations, or even ethnic restaurants. Places such as libraries, malls, movies, and using social media can all be playgrounds for exploiters searching for kids.

How can this be stopped

Flores explained that once the demand is gone, the crime rings will fall apart and the victims will be able to get out.

The presentation began with a touching video. Random participants read the stories of three photographed teenagers, ages ranging from 12 to 16 and all living in Grand Rapids. Little did the participants know that they would be reading only three stories of the hundreds of victims who have been involved in human trafficking. The video had a clear message: something needs to change.

 

Her story

The most powerful part of the seminar had to be Flores’ own personal story. As a young girl, she found herself thrown into the world of human trafficking as only a high school sophomore. She felt trapped; she was drugged, rapped and threatened to exploit photographs of the awful things the captors did to her if she did not partake in their crime. For years, Flores lied to her family and would sneak off in the middle of the night to meet and service men. Even though there were many opportunities for help, she was either scared or the bystanders ignored the signs. Even when the police rescued her from a small diner outside of the motel that she was brutally abused sexually by at least 20 men, she would still not tell the truth of what was happening to her. Flores was able to escape her double life when her family abruptly moved and left the state, but it took many more years for her to speak up about what had happened.

For more information on her story, Flores’ book “The Sex Slave Across the Street” is available for purchase online at Amazon for $13.22 or is available in stores .

“Before hand, I had very limited knowledge of the subject,” said Jake Roberts, who attended the lecture. “The speaker expertly conveyed emotion and knowledge to spread both her story and awareness.”

Flores explained the need of being aware of the signs. These include teenagers with changes in behavior, bruising, fake IDs or hotel cards. If one person notices and offers to help those in need of it, he or she could be saving a life. Calling the police if something does not seem right could help.

People also need to help spread awareness. Things like writing to senators, informing people of pimp culture, not playing desensitizing video games, or even asking grocery stores to remove scandalous magazines can all help the cause.

“I think the presentation really emphasized awareness on how close to home this problem hits, and how it can happen to anyone,” said Schoolcraft student Monica Hubahib.

A very clever way that Flores has found to help victims of human trafficking, is to leave little signs of hope in the environment they are most often in. Flores and her many volunteers for Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P.) donate hundreds of  bars of soaps to hotels and motels that have a human trafficking hotline number on the soap. The goal is that a victim can use the phone number as a resource to get help. The group also tries matching missing children with those posted for sale on websites such as Backpage.

“God had this happened to me for a reason,” said Flores. “I escaped, went to college and wanted to help kids. Everything had perfectly aligned for me to have a voice. People would look at me and listen to my story, because I look like someone’s daughter. I believe that everything happened to me for a reason– that was my challenge.”

This was made possible by the Hinkle Center: a resource for empowered living. Those can contact the Hinkle Center at 734-462-4443 or hinklecenter@schoolcraft.edu. For more information on human trafficking, visit https://www.traffickfree.com.

 

www.radioproject.org Human trafficking awareness needs to be spread to help save the victims