Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 30, 2009
Survivor of sex trafficking works to help other victims escape from their hell
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
DAYTON, OHIO - The more than 300 people in a University of Dayton auditorium were stone silent, some wearing anguished expressions, as Theresa Flores shared her story of becoming a sex slave at age 15.
Now a University of Dayton graduate and licensed social worker, Flores was among the panelists at a public forum that was part of the Dayton Human Trafficking Accords international conference earlier this month.
Flores is a face of human trafficking.
For two years she was drugged, raped and tortured in Detroit by a group of boys and men who manipulated her through threats and blackmail. She was forced to sneak out of her upscale suburban home at night or was picked up after school for sex.
One time she was essentially put on display for a group of men and "auctioned off," not knowing if she would live or die.
It was a secret she kept for 20 years.
She was "a normal kid from the suburbs with a nice family," but she "was not immune," said Flores, who wrote The Sacred Bath: An American Teen's Story of Modern-Day Slavery.
She is now the director of development for Gracehaven, a safe home in Dublin, Ohio, for girls under age 18 who have been victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
HELL INTO HEAVEN
"I decided to turn my hell into my heaven," she said. "I have dedicated my life to this cause. I don't want it to happen to anyone else."
Humans typically are trafficked for sexual and labour activities.
In her keynote address, Kristyn Peck Williams, program support coordinator for the anti-trafficking services program for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said the problem is global.
A wide range of estimates on the scope and magnitude of modern-day slavery exists. The U.S. State Department estimates that some 800,000 people are trafficked into slavery within or across national boundaries annually, including the United States.
The International Labour Organization estimates that at any given time 12.3 million adults and children are in forced labour, bonded labour or commercial sex networks worldwide.
There is no typical victim profile, Williams said. Of those the USCCB has served, 71 per cent were trafficked for labour, 21 per cent for sex and eight per cent for both.
"Victims are diverse in age, race, class, gender, religion and culture with multiple, varied needs," Williams said.
"What they have in common is their desire to seek a better opportunity, and their perception of migration as the means to achieve that opportunity. Those who are rescued or who escape as survivors share an internal strength which kept them alive."
She spoke of the survivors:
"As their stories illustrate, first and foremost, trafficking victims need safety and security," Williams said. "Many are terrified of the traffickers and display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Others may develop a trauma bond with the trafficker and protect their abuser. Providing survivors with a secure, safe and nurturing environment is crucial to ensuring their return to society as contributing members."
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