LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — It is difficult to put a face on sex trafficking, but Theresa Flores is trying to change that.
When she was 15 years old, she lived the traditional middle-class life in suburban Detroit.
“I grew up in a fairly privileged family,” Flores, now 49, told 24 Hour News 8 following a state Senate hearing on sex trafficking in Lansing Thursday. “I wasn’t like your typical runaway, molested, drug kid. None of that. But I really wanted some attention, ’cause I didn’t have any friends and stuff.”
She got what she wanted from a classmate. He paid attention to her. He told her she was pretty, she said. But for months, he was manipulating her. Flores’ life changed forever when the boy invited her to his house after school.
“He drugged me and raped me. And then several days later, he came up to me with pictures and said that his older cousins had been there as well and that I had to earn them back or else,” Flores said.
For two years, until her father was transferred to another job in another city a thousand miles away, Flores was blackmailed into sex acts. She was taken to inner-city Detroit and forced to be with men as a way to “earn back” the photos. She never told her parents.
To most people, the problem of sex trafficking is foreign — literally. Many assume it happens only in other countries.
But the message in Lansing Thursday was to wake up: Sex trafficking happens here in Michigan.
The case of Eddie Allan Jackson, convicted in federal court in Grand Rapids last week after forcing several teenage girls, one only 14, to working the streets of Grand Rapids, is an example of just how close the problem hit to home.
Flores was one of several people to speak out about human trafficking at Thursday; Senate hearing.
State Sen. Judy Emmons has been pushing for legislation to combat the problem. Thursday, she referenced the recent kidnapping of close to 300 teen girls in Nigeria.
“That happens in America, as well,” Emmons said. “Maybe not in one fell swoop like Nigeria. But it is [happening] across Michigan and across the country.”
One of Emmons’ proposals would do away with the statue of limitations on those who force people into the sex trade.
Other bills take aim at the people who who take advantage of sex trafficking. One idea is to create a registry for people busted with trafficking victim.
“A new study shows that individuals who do that, if they thought they may be publicly acknowledged, 88% of them would not purchase a trafficking victim,” said Emmons (R-Sheridan).
Flores has been part of that effort.
Not only does sharing her story help increase public awareness of sex trafficking, but it’s also a reminder that she’s not alone.
“[Sharing is] the most difficult, but it’s also the most healing,” Flores said. “Because I have a lot of women come up to me every single time and say, ‘My story is like yours.'”