Theresa Flores LSW, MS, human trafficking survivor, best-selling author, victim’s advocate, and Founder of S.O.A.P. (save our adolescents from prostitution) spoke at the 26th Annual Wild Child Conference held in Marion, Ohio on Tuesday. Her books include “The Sacred Bath”, and “The Slave Across the Street”. She was featured in a documentary, ‘The Girl Next Door’ and her story has been viewed on The Today Show, MSNBC, CNN, Dateline, Nightline, and America’s Most Wanted. Her mission is to save other ‘Theresa’s’ out there from enduring the same Hell she experienced.
Flores explained that trafficking is recruitment of an individual for commercial sex via coercion, fraud or force. Any sex act whether porn video, cyber-sexting, or escort services involving exchange of money or other compensation qualifies, including offering a Happy Meal to a runaway under the age of 18 in exchange for sexual favors. By Federal law, there is no such thing as a willing ‘child’ or teen prostitute under the age of 18; this is not about consensual sex, but money and greed. (See the movie, ‘Taken’). Ohio is the 5th leading state for trafficking; California, Florida, and Texas are the top three; Minnesota is 4th. Border States and transportation hub states with large freeway systems and truck stops, or military bases facilitate trafficking. Trafficking victims are typically 80% women and 50% children.
Based on the numbers, there are 1.3 million runaway or missing kids; 3,562 go missing daily. One hundred nine kids were rescued from sex trade in Toledo which is the third largest city for trafficking. Flores outlined how teens are trafficked; ‘3% are kidnapped, 35% are sold by family members, 62% are trafficked by another person- the ‘Romeo trick’. Kids are trafficked through Craigslist, Back page, strip clubs, casinos, nail salons, door-to-door sales scams and through fake modeling jobs or the offer of a launch into a singing career. It amounts to slavery.
Flores said the average ‘pimp’ makes over $300,000/year; the average ‘ho’ is expected to bring in $800/night; average life expectancy once entering ‘the trade’ is 7-9 years; few make it past age 40 with murder, overdose or suicide more likely to be the cause of death. Addiction is both a tool to control the victim and a cause of enslavement. Ninety percent of the time, the women are arrested and not the ‘johns’ (or buyers of ‘services’). When we arrest children for prostitution, they’re further victimized and the experience traumatizes them. ‘For example, she’s 12; he’s 27. She’s arrested for him giving her $20; he goes free.’ Flores said research shows, ‘77% of the adult prostitutes were trafficked as children. This is not an ‘occupation’ and it is not a ‘career’. Violence goes hand-in-hand with trafficking. There is no real willingness with these victims.’ Her stories and graphic, heartbreaking photos of innocent school girls after being trafficked (mug shots) illustrated her point.
Flores explained that a survey of 200 survivors revealed that “most were molested as children. Pimps identify vulnerabilities of a child to exploit them. Physical and psychological torture tactics are used to enforce complete obedience; the trafficked child is trained not to trust people, to tell lies and false stories. Trust is challenged when the top three professional groups patronizing trafficked teens include law enforcement, politicians, and clergy.
Teens are dis-oriented and their identities are changed; they’re not able to say where they are and feel a sense of isolation, hopelessness, captivity, confinement, fear, shame, and self-blame. It’s like a cult and they’re brainwashed, so it is necessary to de-program them. “Because of the psychological tactics, they will often sabotage their relationship with you every chance they get until they learn they can trust you. It is often a 2 year process,” she said. Research shows some of the physical implications include STDs, pregnancies, and abortions- the average being 6 abortions while being trafficked, gastric issues, eating disorders, cutting, physical markings from stabbings and beatings, suicide attempts, 62% with memory difficulty, 82% suffer headaches (a high percentage from concussions), 70% dizzy spells; stomach, tooth, ear pain and 81% tired/exhausted from volume of johns serviced and lack of sleep.
The emotional implications include a lifetime of PTSD equivalent to a combat veteran, depression, borderline personality disorder, attachment disorder, Stockholm syndrome/trauma bonding with the captor, nightmares, flashbacks, no self-worth/low self-esteem, trust issues, lack of a sense of security, identity issues, intense guilt, and living 24-7 on survival skills.
There has been increased glamorization of the pimp/ho culture in recent years. Flores showed plenty of media examples from fashion, children’s toys, dolls, rock stars, music and billboards. Flores explained that porn is prostitution and there has been a 345% increase in child porn in the last few years. The average age of porn exposure was 11. Playboy gets 4000 hits per minute. Blackmail is a significant part of porn trafficking and the threat to send pictures, as it was in Flores case. Ask yourself, with sexting, is it prostitution, abuse, exploitation, porn? Or is it simply a kid with bad parents? ‘There is no logical reason for a picture to disappear within three seconds-as with Snapchat’, Flores said. Because of facial recognition software, Back Page often just shows the teen’s feet so her age is kept hidden. There are even books for sale on how to be a successful pimp.
Part of the problem is the sexualization of culture with Grand Theft Auto the most popular game out there, where you target ‘ho’s’ to score and kill. Snoop Dog is not the most lovable ‘player’; Ice T and women in collars going to the ‘pimp convention’ as his ‘stable’ shouldn’t be glorified, but rather thought of as the criminal behavior of a rapist-trafficker. Lingerie in public, S&M, twerking all appear mainstream to children who have not formed value systems or sexual identity and they will imitate what they see.
Trafficking red flags include high end cars at low end locations; backed in cars in the shady area at end of a ground floor hotel parking lot, young girls loitering, checking into hotel on a school day, repeat customers, hotel customers paying in cash, van/SUV pulling up with lots of teen girls, high school girl checking in to hotel with older man, unrelated female of different ethnic background or nationality with an older male checking into hotel, teen dating much older men, suspicious bruises, carrying larger sums of cash, having to ‘check in’ with boyfriend, new cellphone, jewelry, branding/tattoos, broken bones/teeth, evasive answers. A teen that has run away is more likely to enter the trafficking trade and at 6x -it’s almost a certainty they’ve been involved.
Flores served on the State of Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission, and has received The Courage Award from Governor John Kasich for her work in support of human trafficking legislation. Flores ended her talk with the plea that parents and guardians talk with not only their daughters, but ‘talk to men and boys about this issue. Would they want their sister abducted?’ Support S.O.A.P. which delivers wrapped soaps with hotline # for help to hotels, and educates the staff through the EPCAT Code of Conduct. It’s especially important to try and reach trafficked victims during sporting and entertainment events when prostitution spikes. Take a stand and don’t ignore it when new levels of debasement surface. ‘Right now 100,000 American kids are being trafficked. The average age of trafficking/entry into prostitution is 12-14. There are 1.3 million missing kids in the United States. There is much work to be done,’ Flores concluded.
For movie night:
Nefarious, the merchant of souls https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B00REQ4PHM?ie=UTF8&keywords=Nefarious&qid=1442427154&ref_=sr_1_3&sr=8-3
‘Renting Lacy’ by Linda Smith and Cindy Coloma
‘The Sacred Bath” by Theresa Flores, LSW, MS http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Bath-American-Slavery-Paperback/dp/B010TT1RV2/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1442427806&sr=1-2&keywords=The+Sacred+Bath+by+Theresa+Flores
‘The Girl Next Door’ by Theresa Flores, LSW, MS http://www.amazon.com/Slave-Across-Street-Theresa-Flores/dp/0982328680/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442427565&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Girl+Next++Door+by+Theresa+Flores
‘The Slave Across the Street’ by Theresa Flores
www.sharedhope.org [This site has great statistics- look it up with your kids].
article author: P.A. Rodemann photo credit: Wild Child Conference 2015