A now viral Facebook post by Southern California mom, Diandra Toyos, reports that she and her children were stalked by probable human traffickers while shopping in IKEA. The post has now been shared over 100,000 times on Facebook. I saw it float through my newsfeed by multiple people, and had many readers email me directly to ask my opinion.
Human trafficking is a hot topic and one that I’ve written about extensively, in addition to having four years doctoral work in this field– studying trafficking in both the US and India. Beyond being a hot topic, it is also widely misunderstood with claims and “facts” about human trafficking rarely, if ever, questioned.
In her FB post, Toyos describes being at IKEA and being followed by well-dressed men who didn’t appear to be together. She says they pretended to shop but that it seemed obvious they were interested in her small children. Some of them walked in circular patterns, some reportedly stood near the exits, but the key interest she noticed was in her small children. She writes:
“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.”
First, I’m writing this because as someone who has studied trafficking for so many years, I’ve been asked my opinion on it. However, I want to be clear that in my answer, I’m not attempting to disparage Toyos. I don’t know her and don’t have any reason to believe she’s making this story up– it certainly sounds like she had an experience that she legitimately perceived as threatening to her children. If I were a parent of small children and were being followed in a store by several people who seemed to be starring at my kids, I’d be freaked out too.
Ultimately, there’s no way to know what happened in this case. Was she being followed by some people with evil intentions? Maybe. Was she misreading a situation? That’s possible. Could it have been under cover law enforcement working a situation that had nothing to do with her? The reality is that this situation could have been something bad, or a complete misunderstanding– we’ll never know for sure.
But here’s what I do know: None of this follows any pattern of human trafficking that I have ever heard of, and I rate it “highly unlikely” that her kids were almost victims of human trafficking.
Let me briefly lay out why:
Human trafficking is an issue of forced labor. It is when an individual is forced or coerced to do a job they do not want to do.
Toddlers are not high on the desirability list for a human trafficker– it’s just not how this works. I mean, have you ever tried to get a two-year-old to cooperate? This isn’t exactly a financially lucrative endeavor.
If you were talking about a teenage runaway who was fleeing a broken foster care system and was vulnerable to coercion and desperate for money, that’s one thing. If you were talking about someone who came to the US to work in a restaurant, who lived in the basement and had their passport taken from them, and speaks no English, that would be another. I can think of a host of scenarios that place one in a position of being more vulnerable to trafficking– but being a toddler at IKEA with two adults shopping with you, isn’t one of them.
And while Toyos in her post says, “this is happening all over” the reality is that it’s not. Yes, human trafficking is an issue and that happens all over, but little kids are not being plucked out of stores or off playgrounds by human traffickers (and if your idea of human trafficking is someone being grabbed off the street and thrown into an unmarked van, you’ve seen too many movies). In fact, the actual statistics show that it’s on average around 100 children a year who are kidnaped by strangers— and I’ve seen no evidence that any serious percentage (or any at all) of those approx 100 cases, have anything to do with actual human trafficking (forced labor).
Thus, one can safely say that young children being kidnaped by human traffickers is so exceedingly rare, it ought be a non-concern.
My end-take? It sounds like she had a spooky situation at IKEA. While I ultimately don’t know the intentions of all parties in that scenario, I feel quite confident in saying that the idea she was being stalked by human traffickers is highly unlikely at best.
I have a feeling that many people don’t understand what “human trafficking” means, including me. I have always thought that human trafficking meant kidnapping someone for sexual purposes and involved peadophilia and molesters. I now know what it means. The mother, like me, probably doesn’t understand what human trafficking means.
Folks just don’t understand the vital groundwork that must be laid before making your own kids “disappear.”
If this was anything like the one IKEA I’ve been to:
1) a lot of the exit signs are internal and merely mark the shortcut out instead of being the direct door to the outside she’s presuming while also being set into display walls packed enough that yes people do ‘hang around’ multiple exits during a shopping run,
2) shopping there involves a lot of ‘walking in circular patterns’ because items you want to compare are twenty feet away from each other and there are four of them,
3) you end up moving through the store in the middle of roughly the same group of people whether or not you are there WITH THEM because of the nature of the floor plan, and
4) it’s enough of a pain to be near a family with kids when you hit rooms like Children’s Furniture and anything that can be bounced off of that yes some people will be watching families with kids – so they can adjust walking speed and browsing location to AVOID them, which can mean hanging around random wall displays, which can mean being near exit signs that don’t actually lead to an instant exit from the building.
What went through my head: Why go to IKEA to kidnap children? How do you get out? Do you call for a search and rescue team or do you bring a helicopter inside I mean how does it work
My immediate thought was that if I had managed to even leave the house with a 7wk old and 2 active toddlers, I’d probably be so sleep-deprived, I’d be imagining things too. I also wondered if the men had had any evil intent, could it have been to steal her purse, she’d be so distracted herding her unruly flock? And hormones did strange things to my body in the first weeks post-partum.
If she was right and there were two people taking an unnatural interest in her kids, I don’t think it’s really particularly reassuring that they weren’t kidnapping them for human trafficking specifically; they wouldn’t be kidnapping them to takue them to Disneyland.
That being said, people are much better at spotting something weird is going on than in working out what is going on that they find weird. I’d be willing to trust her judgment that something wasn’t quite right with the people concerned, but as to what was going on, that they were kidnappers after her kids that seems something of a stretch. I’d take a punt on them being store detectives myself. Who knows, if she was acting spooked and staring at everyone, maybe they thought something was off with her and she might have been casing the place with a view to stealing stuff? Misreading situations cuts both ways.
Human trafficking in South Africa goes way beyond “forced labour”. It includes young women being forced into prostitution. Children are abducted for organ harvesting. Albino people (of any age) are abducted for body parts. “The proportion of children in human trafficking cases around the world has risen to more than one in five of all victims” according to a Health24 report. And ‘The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT)’ states that “while it is commonly believed that trafficking only takes places for commercial sexual exploitation or for forced labour, trafficking in fact takes many forms such as trafficking for forced marriage and trafficking for organ trade among others.
Trafficking in organs is a crime that occurs in three broad categories. Firstly, there are cases where traffickers force or deceive the victims into giving up an organ. Secondly, there are cases where victims formally or informally agree to sell an organ and are cheated because they are not paid for the organ or are paid less than the promised price. Thirdly, vulnerable persons are treated for an ailment, which may or may not exist and thereupon organs are removed without the victim’s knowledge. The vulnerable categories of persons include migrants, especially migrant workers, homeless persons, illiterate persons, etc. It is known that trafficking for organ trade could occur with persons of any age. Organs which are commonly traded are kidneys, liver and the like; any organ which can be removed and used, could be the subject of such illegal trade.”
I would like to emphasise that children ARE targets.
They aren’t young children in the US, in a major store.
I would not criticize her for this. There are so many children who disappear every year in the USA & around the world. There is a serious problem with this and people should be made aware. Regardless of whether she is right or wrong you can’t blame her for wanted her children to be safe. Just look at all the trafficking and pediphilia that has been covered up by the authorities & media in the U.K. over the years. It is a real problem that occurs more than most people are made aware of.
As the blogger stated, the TOTAL number of kids abducted by strangers in the United States every year is about 100. In a nation of over 300,000,000 people, That is a tiny amount. For the few people who experience it, it is a truly horrible thing. But it happens so rarely that it’s literally pointless for parents to actively worry about it.
Until it’s THEIR child,do you mean? There is a difference between being so paranoid you see monsters in everyone and being vigilant and aware.I think this lady was being vigilant and aware- she didn’t say those men definitely WERE people traffickers,but, IF they had been,they would have had a much harder time grabbing HER kids than the children of someone who wasn’t paying attention! Rarely happening is not the same thing as NEVER happening,not by a long chalk!!!
Exactly- I never took my eyes off my young fella and I was always being accused of being overprotective but I didn’t care! All I cared about was my son’s safety and well being and as well as not wanting him to be knocked by a car or abducted,he was and IS very accident prone- anyone who spent a bit of time with him soon found THAT out,lol,bless him!
I think we should stop critisisng parents for doing their best to keep their children safe. I often think that poor little Jamie Bulger would still be alive had his mother had him on the reins like I used put on my young fella; they would never have been able to lure him away without his mother knowing had that been the case. We do live in a very dangerous world and although it’s not THAT much more dangerous than it used to be, parents are more informed and less naive! Ian Brady and Myra Hindley might have had fewer victims if parents in those days had been as vigilant as this lady! Fair flippin’ play to her, I say!!!
Well, there is, or at least was, a market for virginal children for sex trafficking — thanks in part to the belief that sex with a virgin can cure HIV and AIDS.
And the irony is that parents who react like this might be singing “I’m no longer a slave to fear” in church this Sunday! In the UK, I HATE trying to drive anywhere around 3pm – it’s worse than the rush hour! Parent traffic is a problem; when I went to school, 99% of us walked home, or walked to the bus stop. Now you cannot get past a street with a school in it without a major holdup. Well, that’s because children are in SO much more danger now, everyone says. No, we just have more coverage on our news and more scaremongering (and the end times preaching of “it’s all getting worse in the laaaassst days!!” really helps). I remember a story on our news when I was very young, of the body a boy about my age being found in pieces in a bag by a river near my school. It didn’t make my parents suddenly decide that I was being collected everywhere I went.
Why all the fear now? The smallest news from hundreds of miles away makes some people lose sleep!
i’m not sure.