The founder of a nonprofit that gives bars of soap to hotels and other sites, imprinted with the number of the National Human Trafficking Hotline, spoke to a virtual Dane County audience on Nov. 11.
S.O.A.P (Save our Adolescents from Prostitution) founder Theresa Flores said she was forced into sex trafficking at age 15 when a boy she had a crush on invited her to his house after school. He ultimately drugged and raped her, took photos, and threatened to share those photos and to harm her and her family if she didn’t meet his demands.
“He said ‘I like you.’ I went in, and thought everything would be okay. He gave me a pop and that pop was laced with drugs,” she recalls.
Flores’ presentation was part two of a virtual series “Human Trafficking in our Own Backyard,” put on by a host of Dane County area groups including Stoughton CARES, Belleville Area Cares, Cottage Grove Cares, Northwest Dane Cares, Deerfield Cares, McFarland RADAR and Monona Cares. More than 150 people joined in the Nov. 11 online event. The first session in the series was in October.
Now a licensed social worker who works with survivors of sex trafficking, Flores has authored several books including “Slave Across the Street,” that chronicles her personal experience.
Since she founded S.O.A.P. 12 years ago, the organization has donated more than two million bars of soap to hotels and other locations where it’s hoped victims might come across them. All the packages list the number of the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888.
Looking back, Flores says, there would have been no red flags prior to her experience. She was from a typical suburban Detroit family.
“I grew up in a two-parent home. I was not abused or molested, I did not do drugs,” Flores recalls. “I was a good kid.”
Afterward, Flores didn’t tell her mother, a decision she regrets.
“I thought that she would be angry with me,” she recalls, admitting now that “had I told her, everything would have been different.”
For two years, Flores snuck out of the house at night and was sex-trafficked throughout the Detroit area, afraid all the while that not cooperating would bring harm to herself and her family.
“They would take me home around 3 a.m. and I would sleep for a few hours and go to school the next day and do it all over again. Nobody ever had any idea that something like this was happening,” she said.
The nightmare finally ended, Flores said, when a hotel waitress asked if she needed help and then called the police.
Most young women in that situation aren’t rescued, Flores said. “Forty percent of those being trafficked will die,” she said.
Flores stressed that there is no such thing as a consenting teen prostitute.
“By federal definition they are a human trafficking victim. We have to be really careful about the words we use,” Flores said.
She also said it’s “a myth” that most sex trafficking victims are kidnapped.
“The majority of the time it’s somebody they know,” she said.
She said the way to end human sex trafficking is to focus on who is paying.
“Sexual slavery has been around since the beginning of time, and it has only gotten worse. What do we do to combat this?” Flores said. “The only way we can stop this is going after the demand.”
Sharing a series of police mug shots of a teenager named Grace, who died soon after her last arrest, Flores said not taking action will fail more teens like her.
“We failed Grace, we didn’t help her. Does it look like this is by her choice or that someone is doing this to her?” Flores said, showing the succession of photos with visible facial bruising and a more unkempt appearance as time progressed. “This is what human trafficking looks like in our country. We need to…stop this once and for all.”