OFFGRID|Issue 39
Theresa Flores Survived the Horrors of Human Trafficking to Tell Her Story and Found The SOAP Project. Now She Leads the Fight to Heal, Educate, and Eradicate This Silent Epidemic
John Schwartze

The public is often led to believe that human trafficking only happens in other countries. Theresa Flores is living proof that it’s been happening in the United States for a long time. It’s often linked to some very sinister people in positions of power, and no one’s immune to it. She was trafficked as a young girl in the Michigan suburbs, before the internet existed and names like Jeffrey Epstein were in the 6 o’clock news. She escaped her nightmare and not only detailed what she endured in her book, The Slave Across the Street, but became a respected authority on the topic and relentlessly tours the country working with other survivors to fight this perverse form of conscription.

In Theresa’s words, human trafficking is a “silent epidemic.” It’s orchestrated by highly sophisticated criminals who use intimidation, extortion, bribery, and violence to continue its onslaught. Various businesses are fronts for it. The dark web is a marketplace for victims being bought and sold. Social media, apps, interactive video games, and hangouts where children congregate draw predators out of the woodwork looking for victims to exploit. Their future may include sexual and emotional abuse, beatings, organ harvesting, forced labor, torture, or murder.

We spoke with Theresa about her experience, what the public needs to know to protect themselves and their kids, and how her organization, SOAP (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution)Project, raises awareness. The question then becomes, will you dismiss her personal account as an isolated incident that could never happen to your loved ones, or will you be convinced that it deserves more coverage than other hot topics on the evening news ever did? After reading her story, and our feature on this topic elsewhere in this issue, we hope you’ll agree that no child should have to suffer through this kind of sordid opportunism.

RECOIL OFFGRID: Where’d you grow up?

Theresa Flores: All over the place. That was probably one of the things that made me more vulnerable than the average kid — we moved every two years. I was born in Ohio and my dad got a job with General Electric, so we moved all over Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.

Tell us about how your experience being trafficked began.

TF: In the middle of my freshman year in high school, we moved to a new area that was outside of a big city. It was very different for me and fast-paced. A boy from school started to notice me and asked if I wanted to go out, but I wasn’t old enough to date. For about six months he groomed me, but as a kid you think they’re courting you because you’re getting a lot of compliments. One afternoon, he asked me if I wanted a ride home from school, but he didn’t take me home. Instead, we went to his house. I was drugged and raped. After that, he and the group that he was in, which was like a middle-class, Middle Eastern gang, ended up blackmailing me with photos they took while I was drugged and selling me to men for the next two years.

What year was this and how long did it go on for?

TF: I met him in 1979, but it really began in 1980. It was my sophomore year and all of my junior year. I was 17 when I got out.

How were they orchestrating this?

TF: The men behind it would call on a private line I had at my house around midnight several nights a week and demand that I appear right away. I would sneak out of my house, and they’d pick me up. They’d take me to these really nice houses all around the area. I’d go into a downstairs area where all the men were at. I remember seeing guns and money.

They would put me in a bedroom, and many men would come in and out of there over the course of several hours. Then, they’d take me home. No one ever asked me who I was, how old I was, or where I was from. Nothing like that. They went in and pretty much did their business and laughed about it. Several of the same guys that I went to high school with were in charge and always around. They were always watching me to make sure I knew who I belonged to and didn’t get out of line.

Miraculously, my dad ended up getting transferred to another state far away, so I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving. I was able to escape, and I know they were looking for me afterward and priming other people to continue this.

What did it ultimately culminate in?

TF: The low point was when I was taken to a dingy motel in inner-city Detroit where I was auctioned off to the highest bidder over and over and raped by multiple men. I strongly believe that, because I was left there afterward, they had no intention of taking me home. The sun was coming up, and my dad was home.

There was a waitress in the café next to the hotel I went into who helped me and called the police. They came and took me home. The policeman was nice and understood what was happening, but I wasn’t in any mental or physical position to confide in him at all. I think my parents assumed I’d been out partying. The next day my dog went missing. I received a call from these guys, heard my dog in the background, then heard a gunshot, so I wasn’t going to be talking because of the threats.

I firmly believe that they probably would’ve taken me somewhere cross-country if the police hadn’t come. When I left there that kind of affected their plans. I went back to school that next week, and they took me out during school. They’d come up to me and say, “We’re leaving now.” It still happened even after that night, but much less. I think they were grooming another girl as well. Finally, it really started to slow down at the end of the school year. They took me after school one day to someone’s house where a bunch of their friends were. It was just a bad situation. I got beat up a bit and went home. It was probably the next week or two that we got transferred.

After I moved, I’d be working as a waitress somewhere and there’d be a phone call for me, which was weird because I’d just moved there and no one knew me. Either there’d be no one on the other end or a man would say, “Hello Theresa,” and I’d hang up. Weird things would happen, but we lived a thousand miles away. I was always looking over my shoulder, and it wasn’t until my senior year in high school when I decided to call the police in Birmingham, Michigan, which is where I’d lived. I think that the police officers that recovered me may have been in Detroit. I tried to find the records of when they brought me home, but I’m not sure if they even filed any. I told whoever I was on the phone with that something had happened to me a few years ago and gave them a brief scenario of it, and they basically told me that with the statute of limitations there was nothing they could do. That was disheartening, to say the least.

What can you tell us about the men behind it?

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