Arts & Entertainment Editor
This article includes subject matters such as sex trafficking and suicide.
Theresa Flores, a University of Dayton graduate (‘07) and sex trafficking survivor, released in July the 10th anniversary edition of her memoir “The Slave Across the Street,” detailing her sexual enslavement in an upper-middle class neighborhood during high school. Her initial book was included in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller lists, and Flores has since moved to numerous mediums to share her message about human trafficking. Aside from speaking, she started the nonprofit Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution Project (S.O.A.P.), an outreach designed to let victims know about the resources available to them via bars of soap in hotels and motels. Trafficking can happen anywhere, and Flores brings light to that as she describes her experience and the way it shaped her life. In the revised edition, Flores also focuses on what came next, describing her struggles, outreach and spiritual path to healing. I spoke with Flores about her memoir’s re-release.
Q: How would you describe your book to someone who may be interested in reading it?
A: It’s my story of being an average, all-American Catholic kid living in the Midwest and how I got trafficked and lived at home while I was being trafficked. Even more important than my story, though, is what it took spiritually to overcome that and be the woman who I am today that has taken on a calling from God and started this ministry.
Q: Other than including the first names of your captors, what other notable changes have you made between the original release and the 10th anniversary copy?
A: The names I fully embraced, and I was very vulnerable in this new book about the mistakes and choices that I made afterward because of the trauma. I attempted suicide and had real struggles because I was still in that trauma and hadn’t healed. I really wanted to be honest with the reader. A lot of people see me now on “The Today Show” or getting awards and they see this Theresa Flores and they don’t know what it took to get here. I wanted to show the reader what trafficking does to a person emotionally.
Q: What do you wish people would ask you about your story?
A: I love being able to talk about the spiritual part of my story, about how God was always with me in those horrible moments. He didn’t leave me alone, and that’s what I want people to remember when something bad is happening to them. He hasn’t abandoned them. That’s the first thing that we think of, but that’s a lie. He always listens.
Q: Is there a special Bible verse that you hold close? Why?
A: It’s a parable in the Bible about the shepherd that has 99 sheep who goes searching for the missing one. It’s my favorite because when you’re being trafficked or you’re in some kind of trauma in general, you feel very alone, and you feel as if nobody is coming for you. That’s very much how it feels to be a trafficking victim, but it’s very important to remember the rest of the parable. The answer is yes, He will come looking for you.
Q: You wrote that you struggled with sharing your story afterward because people didn’t want to hear about it. What do you have to say to those who rejected your story when you told them?
A: There have been people who don’t believe it, that say it’s impossible or I’m lying. Those are very hurtful, especially for survivors, but I think it’s hard for some people because it’s so close to home about what could happen to anybody. I understand that it’s hard for people to read when bad things happen to somebody, but it’s important for me to not just share my story but show how redemptive God can be. He can turn horrible things into something that’s helping thousands of others now.
Q: Were there moments when you were angry at God for permitting this to happen to you? If so, how did you reconcile that?
A: I have a poem in the book, and it was my one moment where I was so angry at Him and yelling at Him, ‘Why did you let this happen?’ The poem talks about it and He says, ‘I was always there with you making sure the worst didn’t happen.’ I try really hard not to get angry at Him, but every time I have, something good has come out of it.
Q: Tell me about your current outreach efforts, The S.O.A.P. Project and TraffickFree.
A: That was one of the moments I got mad at God! Here I am, getting lost in Detroit after a speaking engagement, and I was angry that He allowed me to get lost after I was sacrificing so much and working so hard to do this mission. In that moment of my anger with Him, He revealed that we need to do more than talk about this, we need to get out there and find them in their moment of need. That started The S.O.A.P. Project, and it’s been 10 years of getting volunteers from all across the country to get together – I call it making God’s army – and going out there and raising awareness. So many people have no idea about that. The S.O.A.P. Project includes outreaches and survivor retreats too. A couple years ago, I was meeting so many survivors and they were still so broken. I had learned and had so many amazing things happen in my life to help me heal, so I wanted to share that with other survivors to help them. We’ve had five spiritual retreats for survivors, and they’ve ranged in age from 18 to 71 years. On the other hand, TraffickFree is the for-profit arm. It’s where I go to places to train, speak and sell books.
Q: You received your Master’s in Counseling Education from UD. How did your time at UD help or hinder your healing journey?
A: It started everything really – my true healing. I thought at the time, ‘I’m a mom, I’m a social worker, I’m healed,’ and it’s when I realized that was far from the truth. It gave me the opportunity to really look into myself spiritually. That’s also when my mission started, so that was an important time for me.
Q: What’s the most important part about your story?
A: To me, the message is that it can happen to anybody, even college students. Whenever you get that gut feeling that this doesn’t feel right, really listen to that. It’s like God’s little message to us.
For those wishing to do more, The S.O.A.P. Project distributes bars of soap to hotels and motels where trafficking victims will likely pass through. Volunteers can devote time to label bars with the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) phone number and/or purchase items like a case of soap. To donate, visit www.soapproject.org. UD students also can join the New Abolitionist Movement, a S.O.A.P. chapter on campus.