By Pam Strickland
When I joined the anti-human trafficking movement, I was impressed by how apolitical it was.
The first federal legislation regarding human trafficking — the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 — passed almost unanimously.
Both parties could agree on at least one thing — human trafficking must be stopped.
In today’s political climate, nothing is apolitical. We have right-wing conspiracy groups seeking to affiliate themselves with the anti-human trafficking movement so they can hijack the platform.
As someone who has been trying to educate the public about human trafficking since 2006, I should be thrilled the issue of child sex trafficking is being heard by a national audience, right
Unfortunately, QAnon is spreading misinformation and lies about what human trafficking looks like in the U.S. And if everyone believes QAnon’s version of human trafficking, they won’t be looking for human trafficking where it actually is — in their own backyards.
QAnon tries to affiliate itself with legitimate groups, only to use these groups as a platform to spread its conspiracy theories.
Recently, I saw a Facebook repost from a respected anti-human trafficking colleague. “The real pandemic is pedophillia (sic) — We do not believe in the election infection — #savethechildren.”
I visited the Save the Children website and found its statement denying any association to this misinformation campaign.
Its name was hijacked by QAnon to promote an idea the organization definitely doesn’t support (COVID-19 isn’t really an issue) and one that isn’t its core mission (anti-pedophilia).
A group appearing to be affiliated with QAnon used the Save the Children name and posted on Facebook: “Every 40 seconds a child is abducted in the US. That means 90 children are taken every hour. That’s 540 kids taken away from loved ones ever (sic) 6 hours. That’s an unimaginable 2160 children in just one single day.”
That would be 788,400 kidnapped children in one year.
However, information from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children states that, “in 2019 there were 421,394 National Crime Information Center entries for missing children (Note: This is all missing children, not just kidnapped children). In 2019, NCMEC assisted law enforcement and families with more than 29,000 cases of missing children. Less than 1% were nonfamily abductions. Ninety-one percent were endangered runaways. Of the nearly 26,300 runaways reported to NCMEC in 2019, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking.”
If parents are convinced child trafficking happens by kidnapping, then their efforts to protect their children will not be focused on how children are actually trafficked.
Traffickers groom and recruit children by pretending to be friends and boy/girlfriends, sometimes online and sometimes in person.
If people are looking for kidnappers, they will make reports that distract resources from actual cases of trafficking.
For instance, the National Human Trafficking Hotline published a statement on July 20 saying it had received hundreds of calls due to the unfounded conspiracy that claims Wayfair is involved in a complex sex trafficking scheme. Polaris stated, “While Polaris treats all calls to the trafficking hotline seriously, the extreme volume of these contacts has made it more difficult for the trafficking hotline to provide support and attention to others who are in need of help.”
This politicization has another — perhaps unintended — consequence. It makes anti-trafficking groups suspicious of newcomers and, perhaps, distrustful of one another.
Our nonprofit was invited to speak at a walk sponsored by a group I won’t name. The invitation was from a stranger, and I had never heard of the group.
When I asked the inviter for more information, I was given a website that is very short on information about the group.
All the contacts listed on its “global network” are private Facebook groups, and that is all that was available.
It’s possible this group is legitimate, brand new and, therefore, does not have a robust website yet.
But since I’m skeptical, I was unwilling to risk my nonprofit’s reputation by being affiliated with this event.
I hope for a day when we can travel back to the 2000 mindset — human trafficking is evil, and we should all work to stop it.
And no one should get away with using the plight of vulnerable victims to further a political agenda.
Pam Strickland is founder of North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking, a nonprofit based in Farmville.