I recently read a post written by a mother I didn’t know, that went viral. She described an event that happened to her while she was at target. She and her children were targeted by human traffickers. She talked about how when she reported the incident after the fact, she was told that this was a very common way they worked.
I read things like that, and I always think “wow, that’s so scary… I need to be careful”. But I also always think “that could never happen to me.”
But you guys, it did.
A few days ago, my mom and I took the kids (I have 3 kids. A daughter who is 4, and two sons, 1.5 years and 7 weeks) to IKEA. We enjoy going and it’s always nice to get the kids out of the house! We went specifically to look at couches. We were in the couch section and the kids were enjoying climbing on each couch and trying them out. My daughter was trying to convince us which couch we should get. My older son was happily walking from couch to couch, flopping himself on each one. My baby boy was snuggled into the sling, sound asleep.
After a few minutes, I noticed a well dressed, middle aged man circling the area, getting closer to me and the kids. At one point he came right up to me and the boys, and instinctively I put myself between he and my mobile son. I had a bad feeling.
He continued to circle the area, staring at the kids. He occasionally picked something up, pretending to look at it but looking right over at us instead. My mom noticed as well and mentioned that we needed to keep an eye on him. We moved on… and so did he. Closely.
My son wandered into one of the little display rooms across from the couches and I followed him closely with my baby strapped to me. My mom said she watched as the older man dropped what he was doing and quickly and closely followed us into the area. At the same time, she noticed another man dressed more casually and in his 20s. He wasn’t looking at us, but was walking the same circling pattern around us as the first man.
My mom and I decided to sit down and wait for them to move on. We had a gut feeling something was going on, but we hoped we were wrong and they would move on. So we sat in one of the little display rooms. For close to 30 minutes. And they sat too. They sat down on one of the couches on the display floor that faced us. That was when we knew our gut feeling was right and something was off. They sat the whole time we sat, and stood up right as we got up. We continued on and my mom turned around and realized the two men had moved and were sitting only one couch away from each other, still facing our direction. The older man was still watching us. She made eye contact… very clearly letting them know that we saw them. And we moved on. We managed to lose them at that point. (We talked with an employee, circled back and used the bathroom and went out into a different section). But still kept the kids right with us the whole time. I kept the baby in the sling which kept my hands free and my eyes too. I didn’t have to keep an eye on the stroller AND two kids… I just had to watch my older ones. When we got through the maze of IKEA, we reported what happened to security.
After talking through the experience, there are some things I want to point out.
These men weren’t shopping. While they walked around the store, they weren’t looking at things… not really. The older man would occasionally pick something up and act like he was looking at it, but he’d look right over the top of it at my kids. Then he’d drop it and move on as soon as we did.
They weren’t waiting for anyone. Often you see men in a place like IKEA waiting for their wives, but these guys appeared to be alone. They didn’t even talk to each other. They didn’t talk to anyone. They didn’t smile casually at people (in fact, early on, I looked at the older guy when he got close to us and smiled… which is something I do regularly when I’m out.. I’m always making eye contact with people. He instantly looked away. That was odd to me).
They were dressed nicely but very differently. I would never have put these two together. And they didn’t appear to be together.
The area they were hanging around had an exit right by it. IKEA is a massive confusing maze of a store. But they could have run out that exit with my child and handed them off to someone waiting outside and been gone before I could find them.
Something was off. We knew it in our gut. I am almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking. This is happening all over. Including the United States. It’s in our backyards. I’m reading more and more about these experiences and it’s terrifying. If not that, something else shady was obviously going on. Either way, as parents, we NEED to be aware.
Please PLEASE be aware when you’re out with your children. It’s not the time to be texting or facebooking or chatting on the phone. When you’re in a public place with your kids, please be aware and present so that you don’t become a victim. Had I not been paying attention that day… or had I let my kids roam and play while I checked my phone… I may have lost one. The thought just makes me completely ill. (Especially because I’ve been guilty of this!)
Also, in hindsight, I would have taken a picture of the guys. Probably right in their faces so they saw me do it.
Trust your gut. It’s there for a reason.
**after reading many of the comments I want to add a few things.
This took place in Southern California, however, kids can be targeted anywhere.
If I could go back and do things differently, there are some things I would change. Many people have questioned why I didn’t immediately contact an employee or call the police. To be honest, we were so focused on where the kids were and keeping a distance from these men that we weren’t thinking about much else. I loved someone’s suggestion of using my cell phone to call the store and ask for security and explain the situation. That’s an excellent tool if someone is ever uncomfortable. Our IKEA (I’m not sure if this is true of all) doesn’t have a lot of employees in this particular area. So calling the store would have been an excellent idea.
This was not an employee that was undercover or loss prevention. We spoke quite extensively with the head of security when this was over.
This is not meant to scare you. We have to live our lives. I will go back to that IKEA again. Please don’t boycott IKEA. The truth is, we need to be aware no matter where we are when we are with our kids. And unfortunately we can’t always assume the best of people. Live your life. Take your kids places. But be aware. And be attentive.
Something was not okay here. This was not a situation that I misunderstood. Do I know 100% what harm these men intended? No. I’m taking an educated guess based on how things played out and what I know. But even if I am wrong about their specific intentions… I KNOW they were up to something and focused on me and my children.
One more thing that has less to do with what happened and more to do with this post. I did not intend for this to spread the way it has. I simply posted experience, hoping to remind my mom friends to be aware and diligent. Friends couldn’t share it with whoever they wanted to and the privacy settings wouldn’t allow them to tag. So at the request of friends who wanted to share, I chose to post it again publicly. I did not expect this response, and frankly it makes me a little uncomfortable because of some of the comments. My intention is that someone will read this and remember to pay attention to their children, and help keep kids safe!
Comments From The Post
Cindie FThank you for sharing your story. I recently read about the mom at target and now this. I just want to say thank you for taking the time to alert people. I would have my boys 13 & 15 yrs old walk my daughter who is 10 to the bath room if we were grocery shopping. I do not do that any more and I am more aware of my surroundings. We as moms get use to our lives and don’t think about the evil that is around us.
Florence BThank you very much for this post! It is an important warning! I was yesterday in a big supermarket, and a young mother was asking to his 8years old son to stay at the cashier while she was searching something. I was paying my food, but wait until she came back , and I introduced myself as a fighter against human trafficking, and warned her very kindly that it was very dangerous what she did to her son. I explained her in details how predators are working, but she was not convinced at all!!! The young cashier lady supported me, but the mom was like annoyed by us! But we need to continue to sensible.
Bleu AThank you for this post. It is a wake up call. I am shocked at how emboldened they were after you had obviously made it clear you were on to them. I had a similar experience at Disney World Magic Kingdom in one of the Shops on Main Street. We were so close to the exit, they would have disappeared into a crowd and been gone, despite the security.
Kevyn HOh my gosh so scary! I totally let my son run around places (always close to me) and now I will not!! So scary sooo sickening
Kylee K sick to my stomach! Such a good reminder! Remember when we were young at the park and older men would ask us if they could take our pictures and stuff?
Zephaniah B- California is number 1 in the US for human trafficking. Southern California cities, are hotter targets because of their proximity to Mexico’s border. San Diego, for example is number 3 out of ALL the cities in the country.
Lindsey HI wouldn’t even think about them passing off at the emergency exit … that Is horrifying
Justine FA guy followed me and my daughter thru Walmart one night. When we had gotten to the back where my husband was and he was still there. I said loudly so he could hear me”is that man following us?” Suddenly he disappeared. Always watch your precious kiddos. And trust your instincts.
Kimberly S I’m a mom reading this with a ADHD 7.5 yr old girl who is difficult to keep by now that I have a 7 month old son and am always out by myself without another adult. Thanks for sharing this, I will keep the baby in the carrier more often so I have my hands. I often tell my husband us moms are so vulnerable and easy targets, and I do remember that healthy babies are in high demand, and little girls as well. This is so scary, and I see so many post of people who think we guard our kids too carefully, but I would rather be safe than ever have my kids taken! And we also live on a coast with easy access out of the country… even scarier!
Rose C I’m in south fl and this happened to me kinda.. I was pushing my 5yo daughter in a cart at target shopping and I noticed this creepy guy following me. I kept my hand on my daughter. He didn’t have a cart and went down every random isle I went down. Finally I skipped a few and he followed right behind me. I stopped and waited for him to come around the corner and let him know I knew he was following me. I wish I called the police or something but I was freaked and I kinda just didn’t know what to do. I should have took his picture got help from security. He vanished after.. idk why there are so many freaks in this world
Jennifer BI think it would also be a good idea to speak loudly, even yell, about the situation so that no other child would be in jeopardy.
Kaylee CMan I would have called the cops after notifying target so they could block all exits until cops got there or SOMETHING to lock them up. what if that happened to another kid that day?
Sarah N- it happened in my town too at a Walmart grocery store. legally the men did nothing wrong so police sadly can’t do anything
Kimberlyn- Unfortunately a similar thing happened to me at Target. Very sketchy man following myself and my son around the store. He followed us as we shopped and then as I moved towards the door so did he. I did not exit the store, I went to customer service asked for the security officer on duty and had him escort me to my car and wait while I strapped my son in. You can never be too careful and it’s always better to be safe and a tad paranoid that sorry. I like the part about not being on your phone and being distracted. Had I been on mine, I might not have noticed the man following so closely. Mama’s and Daddy’s keep those babies close!
15 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking
Source- US Department Of State
Anyone can join in the fight against human trafficking. Here are just a few ideas to consider.
- Learn the indicators of human trafficking so you can help identify a potential trafficking victim. Human trafficking awareness training is available for individuals, businesses, first responders, law enforcement, educators, and federal employees, among others.
- If you are in the United States and believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, report your suspicions to law enforcement by calling 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center line at 1-888-373-7888. Trafficking victims, including undocumented individuals, are eligible for services and immigration assistance.
- Be a conscientious and informed consumer. Discover your slavery footprint, ask who picked your tomatoes or made your clothes, or check out the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Encourage companies to take steps to investigate and prevent human trafficking in their supply chains and publish the information for consumer awareness.
- Volunteer and support anti-trafficking efforts in your community.
- Meet with and/or write to your local, state, and federal government representatives to let them know you care about combating human trafficking, and ask what they are doing to address it.
- Host an awareness event to watch and discuss films about human trafficking. For example, learn how modern slavery exists today; watch an investigative documentary about sex trafficking; or discover how human trafficking can affect global food supply chains. Also, check out CNN’s Freedom Project for more stories on the different forms of human trafficking around the world.
- Organize a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to an anti-trafficking organization.
- Encourage your local schools to partner with students and include modern slavery in their curricula. As a parent, educator, or school administrator, be aware of how traffickers target school-aged children.
- Be well-informed. Set up a web alert to receive current human trafficking news. Become familiar with public awareness materials available from the Department of Health and Human Services or the Department of Homeland Security.
- Work with a local religious community or congregation to help stop trafficking by supporting a victim service provider or spreading awareness of human trafficking.
- Businesses: Provide jobs, internships, skills training, and other opportunities to trafficking survivors.
- Students:Take action on your campus. Join or establish a university club to raise awareness about human trafficking and initiate action throughout your local community. Consider doing one of your research papers on a topic concerning human trafficking. Request that human trafficking be included in university curricula.
- Health Care Providers: Learn how to identify the indicators of human trafficking and assist victims. With assistance from anti-trafficking organizations, extend low-cost or free services to human trafficking victims.
- Journalists: The media plays an enormous role in shaping perceptions and guiding the public conversation about human trafficking. Here are some media best practices on how to effectively and responsibly report stories on human trafficking.
- Attorneys: Offer human trafficking victims legal services, including support for those seeking benefits or special visas. Resources are available for attorneys representing victims of human trafficking.