Sex trafficking captures girls even from “nice homes”

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It is a criminal enterprise more profitable than the drug trade. Human trafficking targets and exploits primarily young girls, who are forced to engage in sex with strangers. It is modern day slavery, happening here in Ohio.

Traffickers prey on young girls, offering the things they need. It may be shelter or food—whatever it takes to win over the girl’s trust. Eventually, the trafficker gains the girl’s confidence and then exerts control, either through violence or by using drugs to purposefully turn the girl into an addict.

Traffickers are masters of deception, manipulation and control. Regardless of the method, the objective is the same—subjugation for the trafficker’s gain. Once control is established, the trafficker has a tremendous revenue source. Unlike drugs, which must be replenished, one girl can be used over and over again.

According to University of Pennsylvania researchers Richard J. Estes and Neil A. Weiner, approximately 200,000 kids between 10 and 17 are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission reports that 2000 school age kids in Ohio are at risk.

Trafficking is an organized enterprise. There are connectors, who “hook you up” with someone already involved in prostitution, recruiters who obtain victims, and groomers who prepare them for prostitution. Traffickers control and exploit the victims, “bottoms” teach them how to make money, and “watchers” escort them from location to location.

In August 2012, the commission published the results of its survey of 328 people involved in trafficking in Ohio. One hundred fifteen were under 18 when they became involved in the sex trade. Twelve percent were sold before age 12, and 26 percent were sold between the ages of 12 and 13. Almost all lived in poverty.

Common factors for being lured into trafficking are dropping out of school, having been raped, having a much older boyfriend, and worrying about their next meal and where they would sleep. Runaways and “throwaways”—those who have been turned out by their families—are especially vulnerable. Gang affiliation and the use of hallucinogens are other common factors.

But kids from “nice homes” can be victims as well. Theresa Flores was raised in an affluent Detroit suburb in an Irish Catholic home, with loving and attentive parents. Then just 15, Theresa developed a crush on an older boy. He offered her a ride home from school but drove her to his house instead. Inviting Theresa inside, he drugged and raped her. Humiliated and afraid, she didn’t tell her parents.

The rape had been photographed by two men who were part of a crime ring. Unless Theresa cooperated, they threatened to hurt family and post the pictures round Theresa’s school and church and deliver them to her father’s boss at General Electric. Cooperating meant being taken to inner city motels where she would be raped by multiple strangers. This went on for two years, until her father was relocated. You can read more at

Ohio enacted trafficking legislation in 2011. It is now a first degree felony to take action that results in another person being subjected to involuntary servitude or compelled to engage in sex for hire or engage in sexually oriented or nude performances. To prove that a victim was “compelled,” the state does not have to prove that physical force was used, only that her will was overcome by force, fear, duress, or intimidation. A conviction carries a jail sentence of 10 to 15 years.

Because traffickers exert control by taking their victims’ identification papers (a larger problem for victims who are smuggled into the U.S.), it is a third degree felony to destroy or confiscate a government ID or passport for the purpose of facilitating any of several sex-related crimes. A conviction carries a jail sentence of nine to 36 months.

To bring greater awareness to this crime and help protect victims, Ohio enacted additional legislation in June 2012. The attorney general is now required to publish annual statistical data concerning trafficking. Police officers will now receive training in investigating and handling human trafficking. If a minor is arrested is arrested for prostitution, and the court believes the minor was a victim of trafficking, the court can appoint a guardian and put the case on hold pending the minor’s successful completion of a diversion program.

Experts will tell you that victims learn that their bodies are for the taking. They will also you that, while the law makes special provisions for minors, every woman involved in the sex trade, no matter her age, is a victim. Why else would anyone suffer the degradation and violence, if not for the fear and control perpetrated by traffickers?


Jack D’Aurora writes about a variety of social issues in




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  1. Lee Manogg  October 29, 2014

    I recently heard Theresa speak about her personal experiences and offer some suggestions on beginning the process of wiping this kind of thing out! A group of us attended together (in Zanesville) and we were speechless at the end of her presentation – none of us had EVER considered the kind of things she discussed – boy were we naive. We are now working to bring her to Newark in the spring – for both a community presentation – and a small group conversation with at-risk teen girls.


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