A viral Facebook entry about child sex trafficking posted by a terrified Southern California mom, Diandra Toyos, has reached tens of thousands of people through shares, likes and comments. Many people asked me to weigh in on the validity of the story because I have been engaged with the issue and solution for over 40 years. I tried to reach Ms. Toyos, but I have not been able to talk to her, yet.
The story was linked to third-party websites and quickly became monetized clickbait. It spread rapidly, and unfortunately, it misinformed many about how the crime of human trafficking happens.
Toyos tells the story of shopping at Ikea with her mother and three children. She believed that two men were following her, her mother and children through the store. She believes that she and her family were “targets of human traffickers.” But there is nothing in the post that indicates this was the case.
This story is a new generation of debunked stories past with snopes links:
- May 2015 Hobby Lobby store
- In June 2015 a sex slavery ring targeting college kids at summer job interviews
- June 2015 a theme park abduction
- Teenaged abductors (armed with heroin-filled syringes to drug victims) at a Denton, Texas, Dillards
- A claim from a woman swearing she was a near-victim of human traffickers with gift bags in the parking lot of a Hickory, North Carolina, Walmart store
- Target stores in Tampa, Longview (Texas), and Houston were hotbeds of sex trafficking scouts.
Traffickers defraud, force, coerce and manipulate their victims. There is no case of a trafficker kidnapping two grown women with three children from a store in the United States. Consider how two men would capture four people and likely be recorded on store video surveillance or security at the doors. Kidnapping statistics show that teenage girls are kidnapped more often. Statistics show that the majority of kidnappings are perpetrated by parents. https://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/nismart/03/ns5.html
Media and charity marketing have caused victims to tell wilder, and wilder tales in order to have the “it” story. The most shocking tale. And the Ikea story is a shocking tale of how it happened in one of the most busy and public places in our country. How it can happen to you anytime and anywhere.
But let me remind you of the signs; I don’t want you to miss an opportunity to truly save someone. Here is the Polaris list:
Are you or someone you know being trafficked? Is human trafficking happening in your community? Recognizing potential red flags and knowing the indicators of human trafficking is a key step in identifying more victims and helping them find the assistance they need.
To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or text HELP to: BeFree (233733).
Common Work and Living Conditions: The individual(s) in question
- Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
- Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
- Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
- Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
- Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
- Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
- Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
- Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
- High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior
- Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
- Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
- Avoids eye contact
Poor Physical Health
- Lacks health care
- Appears malnourished
- Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control
- Has few or no personal possessions
- Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
- Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
- Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
- Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
- Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
- Loss of sense of time
- Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative.