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Theresa Flores: The Same Old Human Trafficking Story
Last week I posted about The Slave Across the Street by Theresa Flores, highlighting her story and some of the surprising things about it. But her story truly isn’t that unique. Trafficking of American teen girls in their home cities is not as rare as we’d like to think. This story from Reject/Apathy tells a story much like Theresa’s. Here’s how it begins:
It started with a trip to New York.
Fifteen-year-old Marlene Carson’s neighbors promised her and three girlfriends tickets to a Broadway show during Memorial Day weekend in 1978. The young girls’ parents had even agreed to the trip, since they trusted their neighbors—a friendly married couple from Columbus—and knew their children would only be gone for a few days.
But everything changed when Carson and her friends were getting dressed for the play.
“Put these clothes on,” the neighbors demanded.
The girls looked at the skimpy attire and refused.
“You must do it, or you’ll never see your families again.”
The young women changed into their new clothes before the couple separated them into three hotel rooms. By the end of that weekend, the “friendly” neighbors from Columbus had forced Carson to perform sexual acts with more than 30 people. The couple, Carson learned later, was a pimp and his first prostitute who ran an escort service between Ohio, New York and Atlanta. When the neighbors finally returned the girls home, they issued threats to tell no one.
These are some of the recurring themes that Theresa’s story shares with many other stories of human trafficking victims:
Race/ethnicity. Flores had a crush on a handsome stranger from another people group. Around the world people use race as a reason to treat someone as less valuable or as an exotic, sexy commodity.
Coersion, blackmail, threats, violence. In every country these are the means traffickers use to break down and control their victims. Theresa was blackmailed with photos and repeatedly beaten and threatened. They even kidnapped her dog and shot him while Theresa listened over the phone.
The power of family. Traffickers use threats against family to control victims. The strong bonds between family member create a vulnerability ripe for exploitation. Especially for young victims you’ll never see your mother again or we’ll tell your father what you’ve done or we’ll kidnap your sister are very potent threats. Theresa’s traffickers threatened to hurt her family and ruin her reputation.
Surveillance. You often hear about women imprisoned in brothel, but while Theresa seemed free, her traffickers always knew where she was. They’d come sit and watch her at her part-time job. They’d track her down while she was babysitting. They drive alongside her on her way home from school.
Prey on unrest, new, and vulnerable. Theresa wasn’t a poor orphan, but she was vulnerable. She was new in town, had few friends, and lived in a home full of tension where he father was often away on business. The traffickers knew this. And they used it to exploit her.
Control of time and schedule. Victims of sex trafficking typically have to receive customers whenever their told to. Theresa’s traffickers would call any day, any time and expect her to find a way out of any other obligations she had. This control shows that the victims’ time and the victims themselves belong to the traffickers.
Lack of real intervention from police, teachers, and authority figures. Police, lawmakers, and many citizens know that trafficking happens—and yet it seems we can’t stop it. Teachers in Theresa’s school were nearly as afraid of the Chaldeans (the ethnic group that her traffickers were part of) as she was. Her parents ignored the signs, thinking she was just a tired, rebellious teen. The police once picked her up and seemed to know what she was going through, but the traffickers had her so afraid that she couldn’t talk to police.
Melissa loves merging her passions for writing and for helping provide restoration for exploited people. She graduated from Miami University with a degree in Adolescent English Education and is a former middle school language arts teacher. She now works full time as an editor. Melissa has visited Freeset in Kolkata, India.
View all posts by: Melissa