This teenage girl below from a loving, middle-class family. So how did she end up as a sex slave?

Theresa Flores pictured here just 16 years old where she was already forced into being a sex slave
Theresa Flores was raised in a well-off Catholic family. At the age of 15, a criminal gang forced her to become a sex slave – without her parents knowing. Here she describes what happened

In 1980 we moved again, this time to Michigan, an affluent suburb of Detroit. With each move it became harder to make friends, but it was also a chance to make a fresh start if I had screwed things up in the last place. But I was really angry about this move, more than any of the others.

The majority of those at my new school were either Jewish or Chaldeans (Iraqi Catholics) and some Muslim Arabs. Making friends was difficult. I was older than the others and they had all known each other since they were small.

I was fascinated by the Chaldean culture and the more I learned about it the more intrigued I became. Chaldeans are a minority within the Iraqi population due to their Catholicism, and many
were forced to leave the country to keep their faith, with lots emigrating to America in the early 1900s. Most of those I went to school with were born in America.

I wanted to befriend them and find out more about them because I felt we had things in common. We were both Catholic and had strong family ties.

‘I never knew the names of the blurry faces. Most never spoke a word to me’

I was immediately drawn to a handsome Chaldean boy called Daniel*. He had jet-black
hair, dark eyes and a beautiful smile.

He dressed impeccably in crisply pressed Ralph Lauren shirts and trousers. And he drove his own car.

The attraction between Daniel and me grew stronger every day. He would stop me in the hall sometimes and tell me I looked pretty. I could feel his eyes staring at me and sometimes he would offer to help me with my heavy load of textbooks, though I always declined.

One cold February day after school, I rushed to the locker room to change into my tracksuit for gym practice. As I turned the corner I saw Daniel. ‘Do you want a ride home?’ he asked. I couldn’t believe he was talking to me. Before I had a chance to think about it I said, lying, ‘Sure, practice just got cancelled. I just need to get my coat.’

Daniel drove out of the school car park and turned the wrong way. ‘I live the other way,’ I told him, alarmed.

Theresa aged 14

Theresa aged 14

Her high school graduation photo

Her high school graduation photo


Back row, second from left, with her family three years after the abuse

Back row, second from left, with her family three years after the abuse

Daniel gave me a beautiful smile. ‘I know but I need to run by my house first and get something. Then I’ll take you home.’ Here was the guy I had had a crush on all year long and he wanted to spend time with me. I was too naive to be scared.

Daniel pulled into the driveway of a large house. We attended the same church. He was Catholic and I assumed that he knew I carried the same values stressed in the church teachings. I justified everything and ignored the red flags.

‘I need to run inside. Do you want to come with me?’ I said no. He turned to me and put his face close to mine. ‘Theresa, I like you.’

My heart stopped. I definitely didn’t want to sit in the car now.

We sat on his bed and my heart sped with the knowledge that he was going to kiss me. I was 15 and a virgin, but I was longing for attention, to be accepted and loved by someone close to me. We kissed for a long time and then things began to progress and get out of hand.

My head was spinning. I was terrified and I tried to push his body off mine, but the more I struggled the heavier he became.‘Please stop! Get off…’ I begged.

And then I felt it, like a thousand knives shooting through me, ripping my insides to pieces.

It never occurred to me to tell Mum about what happened. To ask her to go to the police and file a report for rape. I was ashamed that I had allowed it to happen.

And it would be such a disappointment to my parents to know that their only daughter was no longer a virgin. My mum had also told me that if I had sex before marriage, the odds were that I would get pregnant and then she would kick me out.

Daniel called me several times but I ignored his messages. He then cornered me by the lockers.

‘Why haven’t you answered my calls? I need to talk to you. Skip track practice and meet me at the car; it’s a matter of life or death.’

He told me that something even more terrible had happened the day we were together. He had thought we were alone but his cousins had been there and taken pictures of us. ‘They told me they will give the photos to your dad unless you do things for them. I tried to talk them out of it but they want you. You have to work for them to get the pictures back.’

Aged 15 years old shortly before she became a sex slave

Aged 15 years old shortly before she became a sex slave

Theresa today

Theresa today


The family home in Michigan

The family home in Michigan

He showed me a photo of my arms on his shoulders, partially clothed bodies intertwined, appearing to be in a romantic sexual union and not rape. Tears rolled down my cheeks. How would my father view this? My three younger brothers and the youth group I sang in knew I had a crush on Daniel. I had no proof that it had actually been rape.

‘They want you to meet them tonight at my house and have sex with them. Do whatever they say and then they will give you the pictures. I tried to talk them out of it. I told them that you are not that kind of girl, but they don’t care and if you don’t do this they will hurt your brothers. They know a lot about your family, where your dad works and that he is away a lot.’ I was too stunned to talk.

This was the routine several nights a week for nearly two years. After long days at school and afternoons of homework, I dropped exhausted into bed. Around midnight the phone would ring and I would sneak out of the house.

The driver was always the same – Daniel. Sometimes I would yell at him, challenging him to stand up to his cousins and get the pictures back. But the torture and abuse always came as he sat meekly doing nothing to help me.

Usually the location was a remote neighbourhood with large, impressive homes. Each time men I didn’t know locked me away in a room for hours.

I never knew the names of the blurry faces or the naked bodies that mounted me over and over again. Most never spoke a word to me.

They were men of all ages, men with money and always of Arabic descent.

No one asked me why I was there, how old I was or if they could help me. Nor was I ever a participant in the act. I didn’t pretend that I enjoyed it. I didn’t dress up in lingerie or high heels. And I was never given any money for it.

I was a slave, trying to earn back the pictures.

For me, sex was no longer attached to love and emotions. At 16, after having sex more times than I could count, I had never had sex with someone I truly cared about.

Terror was the only emotion. I didn’t know what to do. Each time I ignored the telephone in the night, a dead bird, dead mouse or a black rose was left in our mailbox.

A car sat outside my house for hours after following me and my brother home from school. The warning was clear and it was deadly.

During the spring of my second year of being trafficked, the stress of being constantly watched in addition to the brutal assaults on my young body produced intense trauma.

My parents noticed a difference in my personality and my grades had dropped, so they arranged for counselling.

The counsellor asked what was wrong. I said I was fine. She said it must be teenage hormones and having difficulty adjusting to the new home. Never could she have fathomed what the real reason was.

After about a month of counselling, there was one night when I felt stronger when I was called in to service the men. I decided that it was time they gave me the pictures. I had done enough to earn them back. When I asked and said, ‘I think I have the right to them now’, there was shocked silence. I was told I had no rights and then beaten with a belt with a gold buckle.

One evening in the spring of 1982, my father returned overly happy from a long business trip. He had a new job in Connecticut and we would be near New York City and the beach.

This would be my ninth move by the age of 17 and all eyes were on me. Everyone assumed that I wouldn’t want to move again in my last year of high school.

‘Great!’ I grinned. ‘How soon can we go?’

This would be my chance to get away and be finally free from the years of torture. Maybe I
had a chance at this life after all. And my family would never need to know what I went through for them.

The night before we left, I tossed and turned in bed, fearful that the phone next to my bed would ring.

By 2am no call had come and I started to break down in fear. I was hours away from escaping but I knew there was no guarantee that this would happen.

I decided to take my last bath in this house to calm down and help clean away the past. When I climbed out of the tub, I gingerly blotted my sensitive skin dry.

It was still bruised and tender from the last time I had been forced to service strange men.

At the break of dawn I heard my father’s booming voice telling us it was ‘time to go’. As the van pulled away, I slowly slid to its floor. I tried to peek out of the window to see if there were cars parked on the street, watching us leave. I still wasn’t free. I lay on the floor of the van as we crossed over the Michigan state line and entered Ohio. Then I felt my body finally relax, took a deep breath and fell fast asleep.

This is an edited extract from The Slave Across The Street by Theresa Flores, which will
be published on 12 September (Arrow, £6.99).
To order a copy with free p&p, contact the YOU Bookshop, tel: 0844 472 4157,
Theresa is now a social worker who lectures internationally on human trafficking. Fortunately she never got pregnant as a result of her abuse. She is married with three children and lives in Ohio

*name has been changed.
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