On 19 February 2016, a Facebook user published the above status claiming her child was recently the target of at attempted “sex-trafficking scam” in an unnamed store in Longview, Texas. (One commenter claimed it was a Walmart, but the original poster didn’t confirm that.)
Rumors about sex traffickers trawling retail establishments flourished in mid-2015, but went dormant after a relatively active period of novel claims. In May 2015, a Facebook user fronted a similar claim of trafficking rings descending upon an Oklahoma Hobby Lobby store; in June, Twitter users warned others of sex slavery rings targeting college kids during summer job interviews; in that same month, the theme park abduction urban legend resurfaced; then a harrowing tale of heroin-armed purported teenaged assailants working out of the bathroom of a Denton, Texas, Dillards department store circulated across the same channels; a Hickory, North Carolina woman claimed human trafficking rings were menacing the parking lots of Walmarts to locate new victims; and a Long Island Target was briefly cited as the locale of similar kidnappers in August 2015.
Taken at face value, nothing in Amanda from Longview’s account matched with known operating habits of sex or human trafficking rings, and none of what she recalled was specifically enough to raise red flags. The incident didn’t sound unlike many interactions experienced by parents of young children in public.
Police in Longview posted a status update about the claim shortly thereafter, which read:
Suspicious activity was reported to the Longview Police Department over the weekend. The reporting party felt that she had just avoided a potential sex trafficking situation with her two year-old child. An LPD Detective spoke with the mother at great length and she explained the situation that occurred over the weekend. She stated that while in line at the grocery store an unknown couple showed interest in her two year-old daughter. Several things occurred in a matter of a couple of seconds that caused the mother to be alarmed. Her protective instincts kicked in and she removed her child from the situation that was bringing unwanted attention to her child. As of right now this is an isolated event, we have not had any similar reports. We do appreciate this parent coming forward and letting us know about the incident at the local store. We have documented the information and also reviewed the video from the store in order to be able to share that information with other agencies should the need arise.
We would like to encourage parents to be vigilant when it comes to your child’s safety. Be watchful over the contact they have with others. Teach your children about appropriate relationships and to avoid strangers. In addition we would like to remind citizens to report any suspicious activity immediately. When our citizens are observant and they report suspicious activity they may be a key to deter or prevent future criminal offenses from occurring.
We contacted Longview police about the claim on 25 February 2016. They told us that the department reviewed surveillance video and that the interaction in question lasted approximately “two seconds.”
Police were sympathetic to the mother’s fears but said that the incident was inconsistent with genuine reports of labor or sex trafficking. The clip was passed on to state law enforcement for further review, but police in Longview did not indicate parents need worry about “stranger danger” in the area (at least, not more than usual). The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has a FAQ about human trafficking that provides useful information on the problem and who is at risk.
We attempted to contact the original author of the post to find out more about the incident but have not yet received a response.