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Interview with Theresa Flores, Founder of TraffickFree

"Because I was going to school and functioning, I thought that I was surviving.  "
It is an amazonian journey to eliminate human trafficking. According to the International Labour Organization, approximately 11.4 million women and girls are trafficked annually across the globe. Additionally, approximately 32 billion dollars is being profited through trafficking. In her tenth year, Theresa Flores, Founder of TraffickFree is exploring innovative ways to empower victims of human trafficking, while hoping to speed up the process of redemption and healing. In a Lean In Ohio interview, Theresa reveals what led to sharing her personal story of survival in the recent years, after being a victim of trafficking so many years ago.

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Lean In Ohio:  How did the desire to launch the organization TraffickFree come about?

Theresa Flores: I went to a conference 10 years ago and learned about human trafficking and had never known that that was what it was called and that it happened to me. And there I was, a professional woman, successful in my own right. I am also a social worker and have a master’s degree. I knew at that moment that we really needed to start raising awareness and educating people about human trafficking [while keeping in mind], that my own daughter was turning the age of when it had happened to me. I realized we did not have sufficient laws against it, and so that motivated me to start TraffickFree and try to change what was going on.

Lean In Ohio: The initiative S.O.A.P works to educate communities about trafficking and attempts to alleviate human trafficking in high-risk areas. Through S.O.A.P’s outreach, it provides bars of soap for certain hotels and motels accompanied by a toll-free hotline number for victims facing trafficking.  What sort of long-term projection do you have for this program?

Theresa Flores: If someone told me ten years ago that I would still be doing this I would have thought they were crazy. I initially thought that we could eradicate human trafficking within two years and unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. This year would be our seventh super bowl outreach that we've done. Each year, the number of volunteers coming out increases which show us that people really care about this and they really want to do something about it. The number of hotels that are accepting the soap with the hotline number has been increasing. Unfortunately, there are just as many missing kids as there was seven years ago. And trafficking, I believe is increasing. So if I had to project in the future, I would like to see hotels coming up with their own initiatives and what they can do in their own hotel property to fight this and everybody is trained on this. It is such a huge problem that every entity and every organization and business need to get on the same page.

Lean In Ohio: What sort of outreach are you doing in the state of Ohio?

Theresa Flores: We are still doing our Soap Outreach and are organizing awareness events. Also, I work with Grace Haven and we received a grant from the Department of Youth Services that allowed me to go into any school in the state of Ohio and offer them a free in-service…  I can speak to teachers, administrators, even more importantly; I can speak to the whole student body. I can teach these kids what this look like or who you talk to when something like this is happening and how would you recognize it when it is happening to a friend. So that is a really amazing thing. We just received a grant that will allow us to hold a human trafficking video contest and film festival. We are opening it up to Ohio high school or college students and asking them to provide a ten-minute video on what do they think human trafficking is. People who train and teach about human trafficking will be able to use those resources.

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Julene Allen