published Friday, January 11th, 2013

Victim shines a light on 'living nightmare': Speech today aimed at helping stamp out sex trafficking

  • photo
    Jerry Redman, executive director of Second Life Chattanooga
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

* What: Unite. Wear White. To End Human Sex Trafficking

* When: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. today

* Where: Chattanooga Choo Choo Imperial Ballroom

* Website: http://secondlifechattanooga.org/the-coalition/

* More information: Attendees are asked to wear white in support of an end to sex trafficking.

Theresa Flores lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood in suburban Detroit. Her grandfather served as one of the jurors in the Nuremberg trials; her father was an executive at General Electric.

And for two years in high school, Flores was a member of a sex-trafficking ring.

Flores, now 47, is the author of the book, "The Slave Across the Street." She will be in Chattanooga today speaking at the second annual Unite. Wear White. event, an observance of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, at the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

The event is hosted by two anti-trafficking organizations, the Greater Chattanooga Coalition Against Human Trafficking and Second Life of Chattanooga. Attendees are asked to wear white as a symbol of hope and support for an end to sex trafficking across the United States.

Hamilton County was one of eight counties identified by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation as having more than 100 sex-trafficking cases in 2011. The survey defined human trafficking as "a for-profit sex act that is induced by force, fraud or coercion or in which the person performing such an act is under the age of 18 years."

In Flores' case, the person who "recruited" her was a boy she went to school with and had a crush on. He raped her, and some of his relatives who were involved in the ring took pictures of it. They used these pictures and threats to her family to control Flores.

"They threaten to kill you and your family," Flores said. "And you're scared. You've got to remember, you're a kid."

"It's like a living nightmare," she continued.

No one in Flores' family knew that at night, she was taken and forced to have sex with hundreds of men. Fear that her own daughters could be caught up in trafficking led her to speak out.

"For a long time, I wasn't aware that this had happened to anyone else," Flores said. "I've been surprised to see just how many people this has happened to."

The TBI surveyed a variety of organizations, including nonprofit agencies, because most people do not report sex-trafficking to law enforcement, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said.

Chattanooga police did not respond by press time, but have reported several times that there are no sex trafficking cases being investigated by the department.

"I think that law enforcement are surprised by how many cases were reported to these other agencies that weren't reported to law enforcement," Helm said.

To have someone like Flores speak to Chattanoogans about sex trafficking brings increased attention to such cases in the city, said Jerry Redman, managing senior partner at Second Life of Chattanooga.

"You're talking about someone with an unbelievable story," Redman said. "She's turned her ability to survive into her life's work."

Flores is one of the most recognizable and knowledgeable figures in the fight against sex trafficking, and will be able to bring more attention to an issue that has largely been ignored by the public, Redman said.

"Everybody who is working on this issue -- law enforcement, social services and government officials --we're all playing catch-up on this issue," Redman said.

about Rachel Bunn...

Rachel Bunn is originally from Ellijay, Ga., and graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in magazines and history. While at UGA, she wrote for the student magazine UGAzine, served as news editor for the student newspaper, The Red & Black, and spent a semester studying British history at Oxford University in Oxford, England. She has previously worked at The Rockdale Citizen in Conyers, Ga., and The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the ...

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