By Melanie Jacobs
Theresa Flores grew up in a closely knit Irish Catholic home.
She had a stay-at-home mom and her father, an executive at General Electric, was often transferred, so her family had to move a lot.
“I always had to be the new kid,” Theresa said. “But, I had no worries…no wants.”
The Flores’ were devoted to their religion and attended church services regularly.
“I loved being Catholic, I was proud of it,” she said. “I didn’t do drugs, I wasn’t promiscuous, and I was a good kid.”
When she was 15, Theresa’s life was changed forever when she became one of the 300,000 child and teen victims of human trafficking in the United States.
Theresa told her story at MCCC in early October, starting with her capture into a life of sexual bondage and ending with her crusade to make sure other girls don’t suffer as she did.
Just before her freshman year in high school, Theresa’s father was promoted to a position in Birmingham, Mich., an upper-class community in the Detroit suburbs.
Her parents were very strict and had a lot of conversations with Theresa about saving herself for her wedding night.
“This was very important to them, and to me,” she said.
A few months into her freshman year, a boy started to pay a lot of attention to her. Dating a boy before the age of 16 wasn’t an option for her, though.
“He was different,” Theresa said. “Nothing like the boys I was ever used to going to school with.”
Once her friends started noticing the boy paying attention to her, they confronted Theresa. They told her she couldn’t continue to associate with the boy if she wanted to be friends with them, Theresa said.
“I didn’t understand it,” she said. “I still had a crush on him.”
On her way to track practice one day, Theresa had forgotten something in her locker. She went back to gather up what she had forgotten when she was met by her crush, waiting for her by her locker. He asked if she would like a ride home from practice.
First, the fateful “date”…
It wasn’t “technically” a date, so she accepted his offer, she said.
“He had a hot car, it was a shiny new, black Trans Am,” she said. “So, I thought I was all that and a bag of chips.”
The boy told Theresa that he needed to stop by his house to pick up something that he had forgotten before he drove her home.
“I know him, we even go to the same church; I’ll be okay,” she said.
The pair pulled up to an enormous house, and Theresa was impressed. He asked her if she wanted to come in “really quick,” while he grabbed what he had forgotten.
Theresa was hesitant, but it only took three words to change her mind after months of having a crush on him.
“I like you,” he told Theresa.
Her hesitation melted away and she decided to accompany him into his house.
“I was curious,” she said.
He showed her around the house and offered her a pop to drink.
“Unbeknownst to me, the drink he gave me was laced with drugs, and I was raped,” she said.
When Theresa finally made it home that afternoon, she felt as though she could not tell her parents what had happened. She was embarrassed and ashamed.
“I disobeyed them,” she said. “I felt so dirty and I didn’t want my parents to see me any differently.”
Rather than shaming my parents, I decided to just handle this on my own, and everything would turn out okay, she said.
A few days later, things got much worse, beyond anything she could’ve imagined.
The boy again approached her after school; she noticed that he was carrying an envelope in his hand.
He told her that his cousins were there on the afternoon she was raped and that they had concocted a plan. As he handed her the envelope, he explained that she would have to earn the contents back by doing whatever they told her.
“I was in complete shock as I looked at the photographs,” she said.
Next, the graphic photos …
They were graphic photos of Theresa explicitly “posed” with the three men who raped her while she was in a drug-induced haze. The photos seared images of what had happened to her into her mind as if her attackers had branded her with them, she said.
“It was amazing that those pictures portrayed something completely different from what had actually happened,” she said.
The boy explained to her that they knew where her father worked, the names of his bosses, and the hours he worked.
He told her that if she didn’t do as she was told, they would show the photos to her father’s bosses, as well as her priest, and all over her school. If she reported them, he said they would kill her entire family as well.
“I told myself that I could never allow that to happen; I’ll do whatever it takes,” Theresa said. “But, I didn’t even know what it was that they wanted me to do.”
The boy told her that she would receive a call on her private line around midnight each night to meet them on the next street over from her house. Her ride would be waiting to pick her up.
“It was always the same boy, in the same black Trans Am that would pick me up,” she said. “Most of the time I would be in my pajamas and barefoot.”
Theresa was taken to beautiful homes in upscale neighborhoods where she would be ushered in through a side door, down into the basement, where they locked her away in a bedroom.
“They would always lead me downstairs to these finished basements where only men were permitted,” she said. “I was taken to so many uniquely beautiful homes, but all of those basements were so eerily similar.”
She was forced into servicing man after man, throughout each night, until they were all satisfied enough to let her go home.
Once dropped off, she would have to sneak back into her house at three and four in the morning, Theresa said.
Then, sex with ‘man after man’…
“I would take a cold bath, cry a lot, and pray,” she said.
Sometimes, Theresa would be able to calm herself enough to fall asleep for an hour or two before she had to get up for school and start the whole nightmarish process over again.
The men that were trafficking Theresa would stalk her every move during the day, and prostitute her out to multiple men every night. The message that they instilled in her was fear and total domination.
“I would go out to get the mail and find dead animals in the mailbox,” she said.
Two men would come to Theresa’s part-time job at Burger King and stand in the doorway, watching her while she worked.
“They would just stare at me,” she said.
They would park outside of her house to watch her and call her while she babysat at someone else’s house.
“They would call me to let me know that they were watching me,” she said. “I was definitely convinced that they would follow through with their threats of killing my family if I got out of line.”
Theresa had become these men’s modern-day slave. She was indebted to her traffickers for the pictures they had of her; she’d try to convince herself that they would return them to her the “next time” and that everything would be okay.
“I never gave up hope,” Theresa said. “I never gave up my faith.”
A night like no other …
For two long years, Theresa was enslaved by her traffickers. Then one night everything changed.
She went out to meet the car, like every other night. It was the same black Trans Am that night, only this time the car was filled with men from the mafia group that had been trafficking her.
“They kidnapped me,” she said. “They beat me, they drugged me, and drove me really far away from home.”
The men took her to a sleazy motel located in the inner-city of Detroit, where they dragged her into a room by her hair.
“There isn’t a word in the English dictionary to describe how I felt at that very moment,” she said. “There were so many men in that room that you couldn’t see the furniture.”
Theresa was auctioned off to the highest bidder, over and over again, to nearly two dozen men before she finally passed out, she said.
“I woke up at about 5 a.m., naked and bleeding, and I remember I started running to the bathroom to throw up from the drugs, and I fell,” she said.
“My legs couldn’t carry me because of what they had done to me.”
She crawled to the bathroom and laid her head on the cold toilet seat.
“I remember thinking, what am I going to do now,” she said.
Theresa couldn’t find her clothes at first; she had no shoes, no identification, no money, and absolutely no idea where she was.
“Talk about total despair,” she said. “I was at my darkest hour.”
Theresa’s pajamas were soaking in a bathtub full of cold water. She put them on and stumbled through the parking lot of the motel and into a diner next door.
“God always sends you an angel at a moment like that,” she said. “Mine came in the form of a waitress working third shift serving coffee to homeless men.”
The waitress took one look at me; she had to know that something was very wrong, and she said something to me that no one had ever said to me before, Theresa said.
“Let me help you,” the waitress said.
Still fearing for the safety of her family, Theresa told the waitress that everything was fine. The waitress called the police anyway.
“What she did for me was life-saving,” Theresa said.
Finally, God sends you an angel …
The police came, wrapped a blanket around Theresa, and took her home to her family. A sense of relief blanketed Theresa, for the first time in two years her secret was out, she was safe, and she was finally free from slavery.
“I knew that this wasn’t the end of my story,” she said. “But it was the beginning of the end of it.”
After that fateful day, Theresa was never a victim of human trafficking again.
As a young girl, just 14 years old, Theresa Flores should have been so full of life. Instead, she was robbed of her dignity, and violently and forcibly raped of her innocence and her purity.
Over the years, Theresa came to discover that what had happened to her was happening to other young women and children all over the country.
“At that point, I just got mad,” she said.
Theresa found her purpose; her mission to help the victims of human trafficking and bring an end to this modern day version of slavery.
She began educating our nation and our nation’s youth, drawing awareness to her cause.
She worked with legislators to have laws put in place that would protect the victims and prosecute the traffickers.
She became involved with non-profit organizations, like the Monroe Soroptimists, who collaborated with MCCC to host her seminar here, supporting Theresa in educating people about our nation’s second highest trafficking problem, human beings.