It's the second largest crime in the United States. But for many people, the words “sex trafficking“ leaves a disconnect, as to what it really means, and how people are lured into the unthinkable industry.
Sex trafficking survivor and director of the S.O.A.P. Project (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution), Theresa Flores, is helping people connect the dots and put a real face to the growing epidemic. She makes it clear, that it's happening in all 72 counties of Wisconsin.
Flores was 15-years-old when she was groomed into the devastating industry. She was one of the lucky ones, escaping the life, after living it for 2 long years.
Her trafficking story started when her family moved outside of Detroit, Michigan.
“I lived in a normal, middle-class suburb. Nobody would have had any idea,“ said Flores.
So whose most commonly targeted for human trafficking?
“It's a young girl who meets an older boy, and she gets tricked into it. He grooms her, tells her things she wants to hear and buys her things. That's how I got trafficked,“ Flores explains to WTMJ's Melissa Barclay. “In 62 percent of cases, they'll blackmail the victim or hold something over their head.“
Flores says that 53 percent of all sex trafficking victims in the United States are actually sold into the industry by family members.
“We see that in very rural areas. A 14-year-old girl told me that her mom used to sell her to the landlord to pay the rent,“ said Flores.
Only 3 percent are kidnapped and most victims don't make it out alive.
“Survivors of human trafficking have a 40 percent higher chance of death than anyone else. Most likely, they will be murdered by the guy buying them, otherwise known as a 'john,' by their pimp, an overdose, or suicide because it's so hard to live with,“ Flores said.
Flores was one of the lucky ones. She escaped the madness when her family moved.
“My family moved five states away, and I was able to not tell any of my friends. I was able to escape, which is really rare,“ explained Flores. “It's very easy how these guys find the vulnerable kids. Just because you come from a two parent family, doesn't mean you're not vulnerable in some way.“
Five years after she escaped, Flores opened up to her parents about what happened and they were shocked.
“They had no idea, absolutely no idea that something like that was happening.“
Flores says she wanted to get out but just didn't know how to tell them.
“I was too embarrassed and I was trying to keep them alive because they threatened to kill them. I didn't want to tell them, I wanted them to figure it out. I wanted someone to come forward.“
Flores urges anyone who's being trafficked or knows someone who's in danger, to call the national human trafficking hotline number at 1-888-373-7888.
You can hear Theresa Flores talk about her personal story Tuesday, March 19 from 6:30-8:30pm at St. Anthony on the Lake Catholic Church, W280 N2101 Prospect Ave. in Pewaukee. The recommended age the event is 13 or older.