GREENVILLE — It all started with a crush on a boy.
He was different, says Theresa Flores.
“He was sweet, very suave,” she says.
For several months he was always around, saying wonderful things, telling her how pretty she was.
Flores had recently moved to a new Michigan community, didn’t know anybody, and had few friends. Her parents were very strict, and put a stop to Flores, who was 15 at the time, from seeing this boy.
But that didn’t stop the boy.
He soon began standing by her high school locker, waiting for her, offering her a ride from school.
“I had no question about it,” she said. “It wasn’t a date, it was just a ride home from school in his brand new car.”
But he didn’t take her home. He took her to his house.
“Something didn’t feel right,” she recalls.
He asked her to come in, he told her “I like you.”
“I was a very naive girl, so I went in,” she said. “I thought everything would be OK.”
But everything was not OK.
Flores was given a drink, which was drugged.
“He ended up raping me,” she said.
Flores was conflicted. She was afraid to tell her parents, so she made up a lie.
“I thought my mom would be mad at me that I disobeyed her,” she said. “I thought to myself, I’ll just keep this to myself.”
But Flores’ troubles escalated from there.
The boy had taken photos, and a few days later he approached Flores with an envelope.
“You’re going to earn these back, or else,” he told her. “We’re going to show them to your dad, to his boss at work, to everyone at school, to your priest at church.”
Flores, in her young mind, said she felt she had no other choice but to do what he said.
“I had no idea what they were going to make me do,” she said. “I never could have imagined.”
It was then that Flores was trafficked for sex.
“You need to come now,” she would be told. She would be driven to beautiful upscale homes in the Detroit area, where she was used for sex on a regular basis until she was taken back home.
“I would cry, pray and eventually go to sleep,” she said. “After about three hours of sleep, I would get up, go to school, and then do it all over again.”
Flores said this went on for two years, getting random phone calls or having people stop and pick her up as she walked home from school.
“It was a very horrible way to live, never knowing when they would call,” she said. “They threatened to kill my family if I didn’t do it.
Flores said there were plenty of red flags. Her grades went from A’s and B’s to D’s and F’s. She is sure her teachers saw her be picked up by random men outside the school, but no one said anything. No one took any action. No one could believe anything like that was actually happening.
Flores delivered this message to an audience at First United Methodist Church in Greenville on Thursday afternoon as part of a tour of the Western part of the state. She has written a book titled, “The Slave Across the Street,” detailing her experiences of involvement in sex trafficking as a victim.
She has worked with legislators in several states, most recently with Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, to make groundbreaking changes in Michigan with a hope to one day eliminate the trafficking of young children and teenagers for sex.
“This is a very evil, dark subject, but it is one that we have ignored for far too long,” Flores said. “We live in communities where we build fences and we don’t know our neighbors. Because of that, the busyness of our society, people are not reaching out and helping raise each other’s children.”
According to Emmons, the trafficking of children and teens for sex is a growing industry, and not enough is being done in Michigan to deal with the issue.
“Here in Michigan, we are working on legislation from multiple angles,” Emmons said. “We want to do things that are beneficial to individuals who are coming out of trafficking. They have needs, they need education, housing, counseling, and jobs. That is part of the process and is going to take some time.”
Emmons said a second component to legislation she is working on is to deal with those who are responsible for the trafficking trade.
“We are also working on the other angle, which is the punitive angle,” she said. “The folks that are traffickers, we’ll go after their assets. We will utilize some of that money to help fund the services that are needed for those individuals that they trafficked.”
And thirdly, Emmons said those that are paying for the trafficking of sex need to be dealt with as well.
“The other piece is the person procuring the services, and you don’t hear much about that individual,” she said. “The people that buy the services, they need to be examined as well and held accountable.”
Though legislation on the issue failed to go anywhere in the 2012 legislative session, Emmons said renewed efforts are going strong in 2013.
“We have other legislation where we will make it illegal if you are aware of someone who is being trafficked and you don’t report it,” she said. “We want to make sure that people that are coming out of that kind of situation have safe harbor laws that protect them from anything that might have been illegal under the corrosion of someone trafficking them.”
Most importantly, however, Emmons and Flores agreed, awareness is the key factor in fighting he fight against sex trafficking.
“What Theresa’s book does, is it puts the face of Michigan on a very evil industry,” Emmons said. “Whether you know it or not human trafficking in America is the second fastest growing industry. It is a $32 billion industry and is second only to the drug trade. We need folks to spread the word, we need you to be aware and we need the young people in our families … to know to be cautious,” Emmons said.
Residents with awareness or legislative ideas may call Emmons’ office at (517) 373-3760 or send an email to SenJEmmons@senate.michigan.gov.
Emmons also asked residents who suspect a case of human trafficking to contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline toll-free 24/7 at 1-888-3737-888 to report it.