Some sex trafficking examples:
- A woman was followed by sex traffickers at an Oklahoma Hobby Lobby in May 2015.
- A woman and her daughter narrowly avoided sex traffickers in the parking lot of a North Carolina Walmart in August 2015.
- A 25-year-old woman was drugged and nearly abducted by sex traffickers in the bathroom of a Shelby Township, Michigan Meijer store in August 2017.
- A woman reported “windshield wiper blades [being] stolen and $100 bills tied to car handles” in order to lure women into the clutches of sex traffickers at Coral Ridge Mall in January 2020.
These are just a scant few of the many, many similar posts that have circulated like wildfire for years on social media.
I mean, I get it. Kidnapping is every parent’s worst fear.
However, kidnapping and sex trafficking don’t work the way these social media posts claim they do.
Kidnapping is most likely to be perpetrated by someone the victim knows.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 2019, of the 29,000 cases the organization worked on, less than 1% were stranger abductions.
The Polaris Project, a national organization that works to eradicate human trafficking, says that “the most pervasive myth about human trafficking is that it always, or often, involves kidnapping or physically forcing someone into a situation.”
In reality, “hauling [victims] off is too risky. Victims are recruited, manipulated, made dependent,” writes Lara Powers, an experienced professional in the anti-trafficking field, for the LA Times. In the thousands of sex trafficking cases Powers has encountered, she has “never seen, read or heard about a real sex-trafficking situation in which a child was abducted by traffickers in broad daylight at a busy store under a mother’s watchful eye.”
According again to Polaris Project, which worked on over 10,000 cases of human trafficking in 2018 alone, risk factors that make a person vulnerable to human trafficking include “recent migration or relocation, substance use, mental health concerns, involvement with the child welfare system and being a runaway or homeless youth.”
Some might think, even if the post may not be true, something like this could happen and, well, “better safe than sorry.” The harm is that spreading an unsubstantiated claim pulls law enforcement resources away from legitimate crime.
Worst of all, sharing these social media posts creates confusion about the realities of human trafficking and decreases the likelihood that real victims will receive the help they need.
Social media fakery has real-world consequences. If you care about victims of human trafficking, don’t share a post without fact-checking it first!