YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Human trafficking is compared to modern-day slavery here in America.
States across the country are working to enact stricter laws to protect victims and punish criminals. But tracking human trafficking in Northeast Ohio is a difficult task for advocates because statistics on the crime have not been kept.
Theresa Flores was one of those statistics. She was a sex slave nearly 25 years ago and shared her story with a packed house Wednesday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Social Hall. The event was sponsored by Operation Keepsake.
“For me, there was no way out,” Flores said. “You don’t know how to get out. You can’t tell anybody because they say they’re going to kill your family.”
Flores said her version of hell started after she was drugged and raped. After two years of being forced into sex slavery as a teenager, she said her family moved across the country from where the incident was happening.
She said it’s difficult to identify those like herself who are being used as sex slaves.
“You always feel alone. Like you’re the only one this is happening to,” Flores said.
Human trafficking victims are often times moved from city to city and state to state. And experts say many of the victims who start off here in Youngstown move down to Youngstown and are eventually moved out of the region.
“I wanted them to know there are a lot of choices out there and stop this once and for all,” Flores said.
She said even though it’s hard to identify victims, Ohio is moving forward to make tougher punishments for the perpetrators.
“It infuriates me he can say ‘oh, I didn’t know she was 17. I thought she was 18’,” Flores said.
The National Center for Victims of Crime Statistics said 88 percent of sex trafficking is prostitution of an adult or child. And two of every three cases are women.
“These guys are looking for the girls at the malls, the movies, the library,” Flores said.
If you know of or suspect any cases of human trafficking, or if you are a victim, you’re urged to call a toll free hotline at 1-888-373-7888 in Ohio or Pennsylvania.