A Survivor of Familial Trafficking
Experts estimate over 29.9 million people worldwide are trapped in a life of exploitation and human trafficking. And millions of them are children.
God’s answer to fighting this heartless evil against those made in His image – His church.
In recognition of January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and with “The Exploited” a key CityServe compassion initiative, we’ve been sharing the story of Ofelia Flores and her heaven-sent escape from human-trafficking.
Now in Part III of our series on Ofelia’s God Story, this Kern County mother of five and 13 grandkids is now a “survivor advocate.” Ofelia shares how each of us can counter the scourge of human trafficking and exploitation:
Your own sister introduced you to heroin and trafficked you for money to buy drugs. What should people be looking out for? What are the signals that it’s time to intervene?
Ofelia Flores: I was incarcerated many times as a juvenile for being under the influence of heroin, strong arm robbery & battery. Each time, I just did my time, got out and went back to hustling. So that pattern of incarceration is a huge red flag. It calls at least for therapy, if not Child Protective Services (CPS). My parents really, really dropped the ball …and I think people in our neighborhood were afraid of my dad for good reason. He could be very violent, though he never was with us kids. People were afraid if they called CPS they might have to deal with my dad.
What role can churches play?
I received faith-based therapy from Kingdom Community Ministries and a woman’s counseling group. Going to that woman’s group was life-changing. I was actually in therapy for my trauma for about two years. And I still am. I’ve learned I get to show myself some grace, and I’m actually enjoying it.
I attended a grief hope group at my church Canyon Hills.
Pastors are wrong if they think human trafficking hasn’t touched their church. All they have to do is count 1, 2, 3, 4 … 1 out of every 4 women has either been sexually assaulted, abused or trafficked. Not only do they need help with their trauma but they can advocate for others, especially children. They just need to be empowered to do so.
Churches can also get involved in their communities…visit the juvenile detention centers in their cities, build relationships with the kids, and be a safe place for them. The opportunities are endless.
If someone from a church had reached out to me, bought me some food and offered prayer, I think eventually I would have asked them for help.
You’ve come such a long way, Ofelia. You speak to young girls at the juvenile detention center where you were once incarcerated. They show your video at law-enforcement galas. You get standing ovations!
That’s all God.
All of the jobs I ever had weren’t fulfilling and I’d pray, ‘Something feels like it’s in the way, God, and I don’t know what it is.’
My granddaughter would have her friends spend the night, and I’d take them all to church. I’ve brought so many kids to church, I thought, ‘Okay, maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s the children.’ But I still felt, ‘I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. This is not my calling, my purpose. This is not it. I’m stuck.’
The Lord put on my heart to speak to the girls at juvenile hall.
It was where they used to keep me, and I was scared to death and prayed and prayed about it. And the girls would ask me, ‘Why are you here? Why are you here talking to us?’ And I told them. ‘You’re where I used to be. I used to stay here a lot and nobody came for me. Nobody came here for me. So now, I’m coming here for you.’
They absolutely loved me. One girl walked out mid-story. The other girls said, ‘It’s okay miss, she just has the same story, it’s a lot like what happened to her.’ But I kept going back, and after that she would come and sit down and stay. And I would bring treats and snacks and I would just talk to them.
After I started going to juvenile hall, I thought, ‘All right, God, all right. What else? What else?’ So I started speaking at a local jail here, to adults. The first time I was so nervous, I went to the bathroom to breathe and pray.
I prayed, ‘All right, God, I don’t think I’m qualified. But for some reason, you have qualified me. So I’m not going in there and I’m not doing anything – you’re going to have to do absolutely everything. Because if I try to say what I want to say, I’m going to mess it up. So, Holy Spirit do your thing! Say what you need to say to these women.’
And I kid you not, it was awesome!
Ofelia, this is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Tell us, how can people make a difference to help stop trafficking and exploitation?
Absolutely get involved. If all you can do is make a phone call, do it. If it’s a child, call CPS. Take pictures or make recordings with your doorbell camera. Take notice if kids suddenly have money to buy their own clothes, their own car, tattoos or hang out with adult men. That is never a good combo. Encourage people to get counseling and therapy for their trauma.
And whatever you do, remember this: If you do nothing, if you think it’s not going to touch you or your kids, remember they go to school too. If you look the other way in your community it’s just going to get worse and worse, and it will eventually touch your family too.
When I speak to young girls I tell them that as long as they’re alive and breathing, there’s hope.
I later saw one of the ladies from jail at my church. And she said, ‘I’m in a program now. You gave me hope that people like us can change.’
And answered, ‘We sure can. We sure can. We’re doing it.’
Haven’t heard Ofelia Story Part I or II. Read them now: