Theresa Flores was just 15 years old, white, all-American, Catholic, and a virgin when she was trafficked by a fellow classmate.
For two years she was blackmailed into sexual slavery from her suburban Detroit home and only saved when her father’s job moved her family to a different state.
This is the unseen reality of human trafficking in America, and according to the FBI, 100,000 kids are being trafficked in this country right now.
Theresa Flores’ Human Trafficking Nightmare
Theresa had just moved to Birmingham, Michigan when she met the student who would become her trafficker. She had had a crush on him, and although she felt the red flags go up when he made a detour, invited her into his house, and offered her a coke, she ignored them when he said he liked her.
Her classmate had drugged her drink. He raped her and, having had it photographed by his cousin, blackmailed her with the pictures of the rape. He told her she would have to work to get the pictures back or her father, his employer, and her priest would see the pictures.
Because Theresa was terrified her parents would not believe her and disown her, she did not report the rape. When the calls began to come in the middle of the night, she would sneak out of her bedroom in her pajamas and bare feet to be locked in a basement bedroom, sometimes tortured and raped by no fewer than two men per night several times a week.
As the slavery continued, the threats became graver. Her traffickers told her they would kill her or her family members if she talked. So, even when her treatment got worse – one night she was brought to a run-down motel to be raped by 20 men and left by herself to be taken home by police – she was too afraid to tell anyone.
Now, as a social worker and after many years of healing, Theresa likens her thought processes at the time to that of a person trapped in a cult. She didn’t believe anyone could help her. She didn’t know that what she was experiencing was human trafficking.
Michigan’s Human Trafficking Law
In 2014, Governor Snyder signed a package of legislation which was inspired by a 2013 report by the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking. It makes human trafficking punishable by imprisonment for life and permanently creates the state Human Trafficking Commission within the Attorney General’s Office.
There are two types of bills in this legislation: bills strengthening punishments for human traffickers and bills providing support for victims. The bills were inspired partially by of Flores’ story.
Bills strengthening punishments for human trafficking offenders include according to the State of Michigan include:
- Making it a felony to solicit a person under 18 years old for prostitution
- Making soliciting a Tier I sexual offense, and recruiting a minor for a commercial sex trade or forced labor a Tier II offense, both requiring registration as a sex offender
- Making penalties for human trafficking consistent
- Classifying restraining a minor for the purpose of producing child pornography as kidnapping
- Increasing the fine from $2,500 to $5,000 for operating a place of prostitution and removing gender from the description of prostitution in the Michigan Penal Code to ensure all offenders receive the same punishment for operating a place for prostitution
- Ensuring the Judicature Act includes human trafficking provisions
- Holding individuals who do not report human trafficking practices accountable by allowing seizure of personal property or possessions
Bills providing support for victims include:
- Vacating prostitution-related offenses from a victim’s record
- Allowing a victim’s convictions as a result of forced trafficking to be set aside
- Presuming that individuals under 18 years old with prostitution offenses were coerced into the activity
- Ensuring that trafficking victims within the foster care system receive appropriate counseling
- Ensuring potential homes for a victim in foster care will provide the necessary mental health, counseling or other services necessary resulting from being trafficked
- Creating the Human Trafficking Victims Compensation Act, making victims eligible for compensation from those who trafficked them
- Ensuring access to medical assistance benefits for psychological and medical treatments through Medicaid or other insurance coverage as a result of being trafficked
- Expanding juvenile court jurisdictions to protect children who are victims of human trafficking
- Requiring the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to work in conjunction with health professional boards to adopt rules to raise awareness training standards for health professionals to identify victims of human trafficking
- Ensuring the Michigan Department of Human Services reports suspected or investigated cases of child abuse or neglect involving human trafficking to local law enforcement
Human Trafficking Awareness
As the threat of human trafficking has risen in this country, the awareness of its realities has finally started to rise as well. Thanks to the new laws passed in Michigan, more victims can come forward, knowing there are more protections in place for them.
Michigan now has one of the best responses to human trafficking of any state in the country.
If you or anyone you know has been involved in human trafficking and you need help, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline number – 1 (888) 3737-888.
If you are facing charges for human trafficking, contact The David J. Kramer Law Firm, PLLC today.
For more about Theresa Flores, please see TraffickFree.