By Kelly Chian ‘16 and Alex Keller ‘14
Ohio is working towards awareness and prevention of human trafficking
Theresa Flores was a typical 15-year-old girl living in one of Detroit’s upper-middle class suburbs. With her sophomore year just beginning, Flores was nervous to what it would entail. When a fellow classmate named Daniel began showering her with compliments, she thought her year was going to be a good one.
“He was different from the normal boys that I knew… He would give me lots of compliments everyday, like, ‘Oh, that’s a really pretty shirt that you have on,’ or, ‘Your hair looks really nice today’, which as a teenage girl I was like, ‘Oh this is nice,’” Flores said.
Daniel continued this flattery for approximately six months. Confused on why he was waiting so long to make a ‘move’, Flores was thrilled when he offered her a ride home one day after school.
Flores got into Daniel’s car, but once they were on the road, she realized he was not taking her home.
“I live the other direction,” Flores said.
With a smile, Daniel explained that he needed to stop at his house to grab something and that he would take her home afterwards.
However, once they arrived at his house, Daniel’s story changed. He confessed to Flores that he had a crush on her and wanted her to come inside and spend more time with him. Assuming she could trust him, Flores gave into her crush’s request.
“How could I say no? Here was the guy I had a crush on all year long and he wanted to spend time with me,” Flores wrote in her autobiography, A Slave Across the Street.
In his room, Daniel offered her a soda from the refrigerator. When Flores accepted, Daniel turned his back to her to pour the drink into a glass.
From her first sip, Flores could taste a strange bitterness to the drink, but she quickly brushed any thoughts about her beverage aside.
Daniel offered her a seat on his bed, soon taking the spot next to her. After a few moments passed, Daniel leaned in for a kiss that would soon escalate to more.
Flores began to feel dizzy, realizing something had been put in her drink. She tried to stop Daniel from going further than a kiss, but he began to overpower her. Before she knew it, a playful kiss had turned to rape.
However, Flores’ problem did not stop there. She would later learn that Daniel and she were not the only ones in the room. Two of Daniel’s cousins had entered while Flores was struggling to free herself and photographed her.
Flores soon discovered that the images would become not only memories, but blackmail that would be used to lure her into a terrible business known as human trafficking.
The issue of human trafficking in the U.S. ranges from sex slavery to involuntary labor. Due to the growing relevancy of the issue, Ohio is working towards awareness and prevention of human trafficking.
JUST THE BEGINNING
“Don’t even think about telling anyone [or]I will personally deliver [the photos] to your father at work and show his boss,” Daniel’s cousin said to Flores’ on one of the many nights she was abused.
These, along with many others, were typical threats Flores received as motivation for her cooperation to her traffickers’ demands. The demands rountinely came by phone call in the middle of the night, forcing Flores to sneak past her parents bedroom, out of her house and into Daniel’s car. The calls would come three to four times a week, each one marking a new nightmare for Flores.
“I was a slave, enslaved to serve whoever had been granted permission to go through the locked doors,” Flores said.
Flores was typically taken to basements of strange mens’ houses and forced to do whatever they asked of her. Oftentimes, she would be raped by at least four men per night, each one blurring right into the next. However, one night in particular stands out to Flores from the rest.
The night began differently from the rest, with her arriving at a motel room rather than a basement. As she entered the room, she realized there were not her usual three or four men waiting for her, but instead around 20.
The door was locked, leaving Flores to discover she would become ‘the reward for these men’s hard work.’
The men not only raped her but beat her as well. Flores eventually blacked out. Later to awake naked and alone.
Spotting her clothes, she stumbled to get what was left of them on.
She then made her way out of the motel and down the street, stoping at a nearby restaurant. Once Flores seated herself at a booth, a waitress caught sight of her.
The woman saw Flores’ condition and asked if she needed help. Flores refused, but the waitress proceeded to call 911. Even when the police officer showed up to ask Flores about her condition and what had happened to her, Flores lied and said she was ok.
Flores dealt with her nightly abuses for two years until her father got a new job, requiring the family to move a safe distance from Detroit. Once she arrived at her new home, she began to share the horrors of her last two years.
While Flores struggled every night being sold as a sex slave, she did not plan to face the problems she would after moving to her new home.
“I did a lot of journaling and reading. Just a lot of different things to try and get away from [the memories of human trafficking],” Flores said. “I just tried to be like the girl I had been before.”
While the journaling and reading somewhat helped, Flores still struggled with the fact that many had little knowlege of what she had experienced.
“It was so hard before because no one would have any clue what I was talking about,” Flores said. “When I would start to tell them what happened, they would just say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m sorry. I don’t know how to help you.’”
Flores eventually received psychological treatment in 2006 when she could fully share her memories with a knowledgable counselor.
“I knew what slavery was and had heard of a couple things about modern day slavery but I didn’t exactly know what [human trafficking] was,” senior Meghan McGuire said. “So when [I was informed later that] this is what happens today… I was like, ‘Wow’.”
McGuire was shocked when she learned about some of the horrors of human trafficking from one of her friends. Quickly afterward, McGuire felt compelled to help fight the problem and began attending events hosted by her friend’s church.
“ I didn’t know exactly what was going on until I met some [victims of sex trafficking], hearing their stories made me think ‘whoa this is real’, like it’s happening five minutes from our houses,” McGuire said. “It’s sad to know that kids my age are being sold for something that they don’t want to do.”
After attending the church events, and learning more about the issue, McGuire became aware of the severity of human trafficking in the U.S.
In recent years, human trafficking “[has become] the fastest growing business of organized crime and the third largest criminal enterprise in the world,” according to the FBI website.
According to the FBI website Toledo, Ohio has been named a “significant origin city” for human trafficking, meaning the area has become a hotspot for recruiting victims for human trafficking and transporting them to other states.
Toledo earned the title because of its large highway system, large number of truck stops, proximity to Canada and the east coast, numerous immigrant communities and a large number of colleges and universities compared to other cities in the U.S.
In a preliminary report, the Ohio Attorney General cited that the most common age for youth to become involved with sexual slavery is 13. In one study sample of 207 victims, 49 percent were under the age of 18 when first trafficked.
Along with finding those targeted in human trafficking, more discoveries have been made on the demand for sex slaves.
The Polaris Project is a national organization for human trafficking awareness and prevention that has done research on the demand for human trafficking. On their website, The Polaris Project explain their findings.
“The popular media, including certain books, movies, television shows, and music, sometimes glamorize and romanticize the commercial sex industry without properly acknowledging the presence of sex trafficking,” the official Polaris Project website says. “This glamorization then fuels the demand for paying someone
else to have sex with them.”
With this skewed reality of what human trafficking entails, generalized stereotypes are put on the victims and their traffickers. Victims put on the victims and their traffickers. Victims are considered at fault for their actions. The help of the media’s influence, the perspective of human trafficking making it more popular.
“When individuals are willing to buy commercial sex, they create a market and make it profitable for traffickers to sexually exploit children and adults,” The Polaris Project website said.
The Polaris Project continued to explain how the demand for sex leads to the need for more sex slaves. As more people are sold, the traffickers make more money, tempting future traffickers to join the business.
However even with the increasing number of human traffickers, there is not much fear of getting caught.
Polaris Project syas human traffickers feel little threat in their illegal business because communities’ lack awareness and have not trained responders. Curently, few safety laws are for victims and law enforcement has little involvement.
As the severity of human trafficking has become more apparent, the government has begun to make some changes to help the victims and discourage traffickers.
A recent example is the creation of the Safe Harbor Law, also known as House Bill 262. This law, as of June 27, 2012, rose penalties given to traffickers and improved care for victims. In regards to the human traffickers, their offenses turn into a first degree felony with ten to 15 year prison sentence, along with registering as a sex offender. For adult human trafficking victims, the bill has allowed them to now expunge their records of prostitution (with a background check). This allows them to become a contributing member of society again without the overcast of their past.
The law also requires the Attorney General’s office to create an extensive training program for peace officers in order to protect the safety of trafficked victims and to publish statistical data on violations of human trafficking each year.
In March of 2012, Governor John Kasich continued to respond to the issue of human trafficking with the creation of the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. The task force combines the resources of the state through different departments to keep a lookout for and educate people on human trafficking. These departments then report back to the governor on any trends or discoveries they notice related to human trafficking.
With the task force’s recent creation, the Kasich administration announced on Jan. 13, 2013, Elizabeth Ranade Janis was hired as the human-trafficking statewide coordinator according to an article by the Columbus Dispatch by Alan Johnson. Janis will be stationed at the Office of Criminal Justice Services in the Ohio Department of Public Safety with the responsibility of coordinating Kasich’s Task Force.
“It is really important to have eyes and ears on the ground to make sure no one is being exploited,” Janis said. “It’s really exciting what is going on, as in, the reach that is going on is really extensive.”
Along with the Human Trafficking Task Force, the Ohio state budget bill has added an amendment that will help educate more people on human trafficking. The amendment, which goes into effect on Sept. 29, states that teachers and administrators in public and charter schools will have human trafficking education as a component of bullying prevention programs.
While she was not directly involved, Janis believes this will help people identify human trafficking situations and prevent them from happening in the future.
“Hopefully [the information] will filter down to the students having more knowledge as well,” Janis said.
While the government continues to make changes on a national and state level, people like Marshal Troxell are making differences at a local level.
Troxell’s interest in anti-human trafficking spurred from a simple dinner table discussion back in January with his grandmother, Barbara Troxell. She mentioned to him the topic of a recent Philanthropic Educational Organization gathering she had attended on human trafficking and how prevalent the problem is. Troxell recalls being shocked upon hearing this information.
“I remember being quite frankly shocked that something like human trafficking – that is, modern day slavery – could be so prevalent of an issue here in seemingly-safe Central Ohio,” Troxell said.
After learning about human trafficking, Troxell became determined to get involved. His conversation with his grandmother, propelled his work against human trafficking in the church.
“We struggled to find something that we could do to combat this threat [of human trafficking] in [Ohio],” Troxell said. “One thing led to another and before we knew it… we [had] decided that the two best methods at our disposal would be education and outreach.”
The Covenant Presbyterian Church recently held an event called “Youth UNITE! Against Slavery” on Sep. 21. The event included Theresa Flores as a guest speaker and Art4Abolition (a group that uses the arts to educate and increase awareness about human trafficking) to make the night enjoyable yet informative for all those who attended.
While people such as Troxell have done their part by organizing events, others have gotten involved with the shelters and rehabilitation centers.
Hannah Benjamin, 2013 UA alumna, helped out at Rahab’s Hideaway as part of her senior capstone project. The project mostly dealt with primarily legislation for human trafficking, however for the service portion of her project she chose to dedicate some of her time to a local rehabilitation center.
While volunteering at Rahab’s fully changed her perspective on human trafficking, Benjamin still recalls her initial thoughts on the issue.
“To be honest I thought it was all their faults. For the victims, I thought it was all on them. I thought something needed to be done to them,” Benjamin said. “But pretty quickly after doing research I realized no, these girls are thrown into just a vicious cycle and it is just completely involuntary.”
Working for the rehabilitation center allowed Benjamin to talk to some of the victims. Benjamin recalled some of the girls having violent tendencies that the staff there quickly settled, along with many others being very kind, asking Benjamin questions about her life. After answering the questions, Benjamin remembers the girls reaction to her privileged lifestyle.
“[The] girls were amazed I had clothes and a house and lived in Upper Arlington and [had] parents that fed me,” Benjamin said. “They didn’t really understand what was outside the world of human trafficking, which was interesting.”
Assistance for victims and more awareness is being done at every level, ranging from a state level with Janis to a local level with Benjamin. With much being done, one can only hope that one day there will be an end to human trafficking. However, for now, people like Janis look forward to what the future brings in anti-human trafficking.
“There are really cool things happening,” Janis said. “But we still have a long ways to go.”