Human Trafficking Victim/Victim’s Advocate to Lecture

Theresa Flores, Human Trafficking Victim's Advocate
Theresa Flores, Human Trafficking
Victim's Advocate
Gwen O’Brien 
Director of Media Relations
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, IN 46556
(574) 284-4579

April 12, 2012 (Notre Dame, Ind.)—Saint Mary’s College and the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross will welcome to campus Theresa Flores, a former victim of sex trafficking. Flores, who has been a licensed social worker for 20 years, will provide a general overview of both sex and labor trafficking, share her personal story, and offer suggestions for how students can implement an effective abolitionist movement on campus.

The College’s Justice Education Program and Congregation’s Justice Office coordinated the engagement, with support from social work students in the course Human Behavior and the Social Environment II. The public lecture, this year’s Social Work Community Forum, will take place at noon on Friday, April 20 in the Vander Vennet Theatre on the ground level of the Student Center (campus map). Flores also will speak to the Sisters of the Holy Cross on Thursday, April 19.

The U.S. Department of State estimates between 14,500 and 18,000 people—many of them women and children—are trafficked into the country each year. That’s not considering the untold number of American teenagers and women who are also forced to be sex and labor slaves. Flores will speak about her personal experiences as an upper middle class American teenager living in suburban Detroit who was forced into the sex trade. Flores has appeared on The Today Show and MSNBC as well as the television show Kidnap and Rescue on the Discovery Channel.

“These guys (traffickers) are masters of coercion and trickery. They target the vulnerable and then use threats, manipulation and blackmail to force them into commercial sex or labor while they gain financially,” said Flores. Flores writes and speaks about her experiences, traveling all over the country to promote an outreach program called S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution).

One of the environments where human trafficking apparently thrives is where major sporting events take place like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and the World Cup. Part of S.O.A.P.’s awareness campaign includes putting bars of soap in hotel rooms near where these sporting events occur. On the soap is the National Human Trafficking Hotline number that’s available 24/7 to help victims. That number is (888) 373-7888.

Sister Ann Oestreich, IHM, congregation justice coordinator for the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and Saint Mary’s student Cailin Crowe ’13 worked together to plan the campus events with Flores.

Crowe learned about human trafficking through a Justice Education course. She participated with the Congregation, founders and sponsors of the College, and 10 other orders of Catholic women religious  in their work to curb sex trafficking at the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

In addition to working on the Super Bowl anti-trafficking initiative, Crowe sought to bring awareness to campus. She received a grant from the College’s Katharine Terry Dooley Endowment for Peace and Justice to form an anti-human trafficking coalition group. The grant helped to make Flores’ visit to campus possible.

“I wanted to bring Theresa to campus because she is both a human trafficking victim and an advocate to end trafficking. I hope that her visit will educate students about trafficking and empower students to fight trafficking.” Crowe said.

Through their work in society, social workers can play an important role in identifying human trafficking. That’s one reason the College’s Department of Social Work has addressed the issue over the past several years with speakers and awareness campaigns, says department chair and professor Fran Kominkiewicz. The 2007 Social Work Community Forum also concerned human trafficking. Currently students are working on a human trafficking awareness campaign for the South Bend and campus communities, which includes making a video.  

The Friday lecture is free and open to the public.

About Saint Mary’s College: Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind., is a four-year, Catholic, women’s institution offering five bachelor’s degrees and more than 30 major areas of study. Saint Mary’s College has six nationally accredited academic programs: social work, art, music, teacher education, chemistry and nursing. Saint Mary’s College ranks among the top 100 “Best National Liberal Arts Colleges” for 2012 published by U.S. News and World Report. Founded in 1844, Saint Mary’s is a pioneer in the education of women, and is sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Cross.

About the Sisters of the Holy Cross: The Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross is an international community of women religious located in Notre Dame, Ind.  Founded in 1841 in Le Mans, France, the congregation numbers approximately 475 members worldwide and ministers in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, India, Mexico, Peru, Uganda and the United States.  The sisters’ ministries focus on providing education and healthcare services, eradicating material poverty, ending gender discrimination, and promoting just, mutual relationships among people, countries and the entire earth community.  For more information about the Sisters of the Holy Cross, visit