An Interview with “The Slave Across the Street” Author Theresa Flores

Theresa Flores wants you to know that, in the United States, human trafficking can happen to anyone. Factors such as gender, race, and ethnicity are moot in terms of who is trafficked –- and who is trafficking. As someone who was enslaved as a teenager while living in an affluent Detroit suburb, she would know.

Last month, I mentioned a new book called The Slave Across the Street. Not only was I lucky enough to get my hands on a copy (thanks, Ampelōn Publishing!), I had the opportunity to speak with the author, Theresa Flores. The book itself is haunting, almost too difficult to stomach, but impossible to put down. The story’s veracity, however, is the reason we should all read and try to wrap our heads around it: Slavery is, in fact, alive and well here in the United States, and we need to know what it is like so we can address it in meaningful ways.

After being drugged and raped by a high school classmate in the 1980s, Theresa was indoctrinated into a world of sexual servitude, forced to sneak out of her house each night and subject herself to rape and torture for the profit of others. With her family’s safety threatened and no personal support network in place, Theresa was the perfect target, stripped of her freedom for two long years.

Flores answers some of my questions regarding her story, human trafficking in the U.S., and victim resources, then and now.

In your book, it is mentioned that the particular type of enslavement you endured (you were upper-middle class, still living at home) is statistically rare in the U.S. Do you believe it is more or less frequent today than it was in the 1980s?

Since it is now the second leading crime in the world, and the fastest growing, I would have to assume that it is definitely more frequent now.

As for it being rare, I do think that other types of enslavement (runaways, kidnapping, etc) are more common, but I have heard from many women that they had similar scenarios. And if you count girls who have been “pimped out” by their fathers (I get these emails, too), then they are living at home and this would be a similar scenario as well.

In addition to the resources that currently do exist in the U.S. to prevent or address slavery and its victims, what is lacking or can be improved upon to strengthen our overall efforts?

Two things are lacking at the moment, housing and mental health counseling. These girls have nowhere to go, no other option. Many cannot return home and have run away from an abusive, dysfunctional family. So having a place for them to live in which they can also heal (therapeutic) is ideal, yet rare. There are 3 shelters/homes like this in the entire U.S. As for counseling, I never got counseling that was specific to [my experience] or even addressed the PTSD. This is crucial in a person returning to be a productive member of society. The psychological abuse is so extreme that many women cannot even hold a job afterwards. We need all counselors and therapists to be trained on human trafficking, the signs, and how to help the victim heal and become a survivor.

What cultural and gender factors contributed to your enslavement, and have they changed today for victims of the slave trade in the U.S.?

The bottom line of slavery, no matter in the old days when it was legal, no matter what country it is happening in or if it is labor or sex trafficking, has to do with economics. It is also the devaluation of human beings. That being said, the old slavery was also a racial issue. Today that is not true. It does not matter what gender, race, or ethnicity you are. Poverty is also an issue (risk factor) of some slavery, but I believe more so is isolation. That does not need to be physical either. I see many young girls who had no one to turn to and talk or confide in. They had no social support. And this was my case as well.

For me, culture and gender were an important factor in why I was trafficked. Some cultures, even though they migrate to the US, still maintain their cultural values of women. And this was true for the group of men who trafficked me. They did not value women. I do not like to focus on this part because many factors went into play as to why I was trafficked. The point I will always make is that it can happen to anyone.

In addition to your writing, what sorts of work or projects are you currently involved in to fight human trafficking?

I have embraced the entire issue of Human Trafficking as this journey continues to take me places I had never dreamed of. When I wrote the book and told my story in public for the first time, I never imagined I would have other women who were victimized by this crime reach out to me and thank me for speaking for them as well. So I do it to be their voice as well. I am also the Director of Awareness and Training for Gracehaven, a long-term rehabilitation home I am helping open in Ohio, for girls under 18 who have been victims. Additionally, I help organizations, like Stop Child Trafficking Now, raise awareness and funds so they can attack the Demand side of this [issue].

Lastly, I have started what I call the SOAP Project. I want to reach out to these girls, and it is very hard to get to them and find them. I recalled my worst night and that was in the motel. I tried to think, what would it have been that I could have seen to help me at my worst moment? And I thought of the room. And the bathroom. I realized that there are no toiletries in those kind of motels, but there is always a bar of soap. And the girls will always wash up afterwards. So I am working on getting labels made up with several key questions like, “Are you being forced to do something against your will?” and the national human trafficking hotline phone number. They will go on the bars of soap and be offered to motel owners free of charge. When the cases of soap are delivered, volunteers will train the motel owners and housekeepers on the signs of trafficking as well.

I hope that this will reach girls at their darkest hour. Since it never reached me.

To read Theresa’s full story, order The Slave Across the Street here.

Photo credit: whatmegsaid


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