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Junior League Looks to Stop Human Trafficking During Detroit Auto Show

The Junior League of Birmingham will join SOAP, a nonprofit run by Birmingham native and human trafficking survivor Theresa Flores, during the 2013 North American International Auto Show.

When Theresa Flores was a teenager in Birmingham in the early 1980's, she was pretty, blond and ran on the track team during the day.

And every night for two years, she was raped and tortured as part of a sex ring that Flores kept hidden from her friends, police and family.

Now, Flores is joining forces with the Junior League of Birmingham this weekend to spread awareness about human trafficking ahead of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS).

The Junior League will be working with Flores' nonprofit SOAP, or Save Our Adolecents from Prostitution. Volunteers will fan out across the city this Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. to distribute bars of soap to dozens of motels and hotels — places where pimps and traffickers often take their victims to be sold for sex, Flores said.

The soap is inscribed with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number, while volunteers also talk to motel employees so they know what to look out for.

"The Detroit Auto Show is an event in Detroit that consistently increases the number of girls who are trafficked into the city for sex," Flores said.

Sex trafficking: 'It happens here'

Flores should know.

In the early 1980's, when Flores was 15 years old, she became ensnared in a sex trafficking ring in which she was repeatedly raped and tortured for two years.

A mother of three who now lives in Ohio, Flores works as a social worker and is the author of Sacred Bath: An American Teen's Story of Modern Day Slavery and The Slave Across the Street. 

"It happens here," Flores told MLive in 2010 ahead of a panel on human trafficking in Grand Rapids. "(It happens) to white, middle-class teens who live in the suburbs. It's easy to think that because you live in a nice neighborhood, you're safe. Well, you're not. We've let our guard down."

After being featured on The Today Show's investigative series, "Sex Slaves: The Teen Trade" in 2009, Flores later founded SOAP. According to her book, The Slave Across the Street, Flores said the only time her trafficker left her alone was to use the bathroom and clean up with a bar of soap.

Human trafficking a crime of 'silent, nameless victims'

According to Flores, sex trafficking is more prevalent than people think. According to the Polaris Project, a national project that attempts to combat and bring awareness to human trafficking, sex trafficking occurs when people are forced or coerced into the commercial sex trade against their will.

In a 2010 study, the Michigan Women's Foundation found that in Michigan alone, as many as 160 girls a month were being sold for sex online or through escort services.

In addition, the Polaris Project estimates that more than 100,000 children across the United States are sex trafficking victims.

"Human trafficking ia crime of silent, nameless victims from every walk of life, as Ms. Flores' personal story reflects," said Amy Louwers, president of the Junior League of Birmingham. "Supporting legislation, conversation and educating the public on this issue and its prevalence is core to our mission."

Birmingham's Junior League chapter is trying to tackle the issue in a broad way as well. Organized by the Junior League of Birmingham's Community Impact Team, led by governmental affairs chair, Emily Todbush, human trafficking is now one of the top legislative issues for the Michigan State Council of Junior Leagues.

As for Flores, she's hoping for another successful year for SOAP. The group distributed 8,000 bars of soap to 54 hotels around Metro Detroit during the NAIAS in 2012. Volunteers managed to identify a missing teen during their efforts, reporting the girl to authorities.

As part of its mission to visit highly trafficked cities during major events, SOAP next heads to New Orleans for the Super Bowl on Jan. 25-26, then the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, OH on Feb. 23.

For a complete list of SOAP outreach events, as well as ways to volunteer, visit www.traffickfree.com.

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