Stateside: Reducing human trafficking at this year's North American International Auto Show
The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.
Though largely unrecognized and difficult to pin a number to, human trafficking occurs in Michigan. Theresa Flores says the practice increases during events like the North American International Auto Show.
Flores heads Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P), a group actively working to rescue young girls and boys from trafficking.
S.O.A.P. is making a visit to the Auto Show in an attempt to reduce the prostitution that can plague large events like this.
"According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 100,000 kids in this country between the ages of 12 and 14 every year are drawn into a life of prostitution," said Rick Pluta in a 2012 article for Interlochen Public Radio.
Elizabeth Campbell discovered that many of these children demonstrate feelings of isolation and displacement.
Campbell, who is Staff Attorney at the University of Michigan Law School’s Human Trafficking Clinic, provides legal representation to those affected by human trafficking.
According to Campbell, many of the victims are foreign nationals who are brought to America by traffickers. The traffickers, said Campbell, control the foreign nationals by threatening them with massive debts.
Of the victims who are U.S. citizens, Campbell said they are often without a sense of community or support.
Theresa Flores says she was among the thousands of children dragged into trafficking.
As a teenager growing up in Birmingham, Flores says she was drugged and raped by a classmate who proceeded to blackmail her into working for him--an operation that consumed her life.
“They would call my house in the middle of the night and tell me I needed to come immediately. They would deliver me to beautiful houses all over Birmingham and then take me back home at around four in the morning.”
Flores says she was told if she didn’t do as they said, they would post photos of her around school, and the threats became increasingly brutal.
“I was thinking I’d do whatever they asked a couple times and then it would be over. But that wasn’t the way it worked out. As things progressed they would threaten to kill my family. This went on for two years.”
Flores says things eventually ended when her family moved during her senior year of high school, but her trafficker, she says, still lives in the same area and has never been prosecuted.
She says her recovery was arduous.
“It took about five years for me to put the pieces together,” she said.
She noted the importance of reaching victims in Detroit.
“Any time there’s a large amount of people coming to a city, we see a spike in those ads. Every survivor I have spoken to has been brought through Detroit at one point.”
For Flores, bars of soap contain special significance and opportunity.
“When I was kidnapped and taken to the motel, I went to the bathroom and I washed up. It was the only time I was able to be alone and to think….I realized that that is where we need to reach out to these girls. On the bars of soap it says, ‘Are you being threatened to do something against your will?’ ‘Are you witnessing young girls being prostituted?’ It has the National Human Trafficking hotline number on it.”
In 2010, the Michigan Women’s Foundation discovered that 160 girls in Michigan were being sold for sex.
During events like the North American International Auto Show, this number quadruples, says Flores.
Flores says the organization rescued a couple girls during last year’s Auto Show, and that increasing a community’s awareness will diminish trafficking.
“Parents need to check their kids’ beds every night…tell your daughters that they’re pretty every day…that way when these pimps approach them and tell them that, it won’t be a big deal for them to hear that....We want boys to see women as an equal.”
*This story has been updated since it was first posted to include new information and to attribute statements to Theresa Flores.
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