When I first learned about the issue of human trafficking a few years ago, I was shocked. I learned millions and millions (figures now estimate over 40 million) people are living enslaved in our world today, despite the fact that slavery is illegal everywhere.
Since then, I’ve gotten involved on several fronts in my own little corner of the world to help. And through my involvement, I’ve learned the real stories of real people and how they were coerced into a trafficking situation. I’ve worked with women at risk and sold survivor made goods. Though I’m not as on the front lines as some, I feel like I’ve seen enough to have a pretty accurate understanding of how human trafficking works.
Thus, its been disturbing for me to read about all the near-miss human trafficking experiences of moms and their young children all over America.
It took me all of two minutes to find a story featuring Ikea, Walmart, and a Grocery Store, all containing similar tales of a mom and her young kids being followed, or in some way being targeted by “human traffickers.” The purpose of these articles seems to be to strike fear into the reader, lest they and their children become victims of a similar threat.
The problem with all of these stories… is they probably aren’t true.
These articles are mysteriously missing verifiable information, like whether police were called. Police records are stunningly vacant from tales of children being stolen from right under their parents noses in shopping centers and being trafficked. It’s just not actually happening like that.
And these stories are taking away attention from the real ways we can fight the evil that is human trafficking. Instead of turning our eyes outward and knowing the signs of trafficking, or making sure we aren’t supporting trafficking and slavery with how we live our lives and spend our money, we are focused on whether we are being followed in a Big Box Retail store.
How Trafficking Usually Works
Here is a link to an article about human trafficking in my home state, Wisconsin.
And here are some actual facts about how human trafficking typically occurs:
Human Trafficking is Actually a Big Retailer Problem
The issue of slavery and human trafficking is actually something Big Retailers have to deal with, just not in the ways we think.
For example, there is slavery in the tuna industry. In the clothing industry. In the chocolate industry. Just to name a few.
And a lack of transparency in the supply chain of the items we purchase is a huge issue. Apart from a fair trade or ethically sourced label/standard, we have little way of knowing whether the cacao from the chocolate chips we are putting in our cookies was picked by a slave or a free man. And that’s a big problem. In the clothing industry, orders for items are often contracted out to different factories, with different standards for working and labor. These sub-contracts are often, according to retailers, difficult to trace. In my opinion, it helps them shirk responsibility when exploitation is found, because they can claim they didn’t know.
Big Retailers have often denied responsibility for slave produced items on their shelves, either by blaming sub-contracting and a lack of ability to follow the supply chain, or ignorance. But with all the billions of dollars in profits these companies rake in year after year, I have to ask this question: Do they really lack the resources to figure this problem out, or are the slaves in their supply chain too far away and too removed and too poor for them to care?
What Can Be Done?
Despite the frustrations about companies claiming to have no way to control their supply chain, we, the consumer, are not actually powerless.
Also, obviously, I’m all for everyone continuing to supervise their kids in public places. But, instead of all our energy focusing on potential traffickers who probably aren’t actually following us around, there is a much better way we can spend our efforts, and a more effecting means of channeling our horror at the nightmare that is human trafficking and slavery today.
First, make sure the food and clothing you purchase is ethically made. That $5 shirt at Kohl’s might seem like a good deal… but it might be a good deal because the person who sewed it isn’t making a living wage. Those chocolate chips might be cheap, but they might be cheap because child slaves picked the cacao. We can intentionally decide to live with less, and be willing to spend a bit more to ensure those who made the items we consume are making a living wage, and are free.
If it all seems overwhelming to you, a decent place to start would be to focus on things like fair trade chocolate, and ethically sourced coffee (Starbucks, for those in a mild panic, is ethically sourced). Because slavery and human trafficking are rampant in these industries. Also, consider owning less clothing so you can purchase ethically, or buy your clothing second-hand. Sites like ThredUp, and consignment stores are great places to start.
Become a foster parent. If you can’t do that, you can actively support those who are foster parents.
Learn the actual signs of human trafficking, and learn to pay attention.
Send your money towards companies that ensure their supply chain is clean is a major way we can make a difference. Here is a resource that helps us know whether the companies we spend our money at are ethical.
No, human traffickers probably aren’t following you around Walmart. But, human trafficking and slave labor is real. And we are right to be upset by it, and are right to want to take action. We just need to focus our attention in the correct places to ensure we are able to contribute to the solution, rather than propagating paranoia about an unlikely scenario.
I live in Wisconsin, and if you are near me, this is a short list of organizations you could contribute your time and/or money to that actively fight human trafficking in our neck of the woods.
And here are some options on a national/global scale:
15 thoughts on “Why Human Traffickers Aren’t Following You Around Walmart”
The link to the article is dead.
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Thank you so much! It’s updated now.
Hey Lorelei, great great and thanks for getting the word out! My name is Claire and I am a Catholic working for an anti-sex trafficking ministry in Ecuador. We have a home for women and their children who are healing from sex-trafficking and dangerous situations. To help the women heal and support their families they craft handmade jewelry from organic seeds. If you would be interested in connecting with me, I’d love to talk to you more. Thank you for your work in sharing about this tragedy.
Thank you for your article. I’m writing a feature for a local newspaper on this very topic. I also wrote a blog on this topic. I had no idea it was such a problem.
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I’m so glad you found this article helpful! Feel free to send me the link to the blog/article if you’d like. I’d love to read them :). Awareness is a huge step in the right direction.
I have two words to reply to this article. Adam Walsh.
Unless I experienced it myself I wouldn’t have ever questioned this article. Walmart is covered in cameras, right? How can I justify being followed by a man in a suit with my new born baby in my arms? Why did a white van with covered windows speed up to my car as I strapped him in? Thankfully my husband was in the car and the moment they seen I wasn’t alone they literally squealed tires to get out of the parking lot. The man didn’t make a single move, but he absolutely was following me. I’m thankful nothing happened, but these people are preying on vulnerable women.
Any chance that the man in a suit was also trying to grocery shop and was just going up and down the isles, just like you? There are a lot of white vans out there. Many are used for businesses. Business owners and workers need supplies too.
Greta article! The only part of the article I think should have been more clear is on Fostering Children.
“Become a foster parent. If you can’t do that, you can actively support those who are foster parents.”
The foster system is rife with trafficking, unfortunately. 60% of all child sex trafficking victims have histories in the child welfare system.
I’m all for fostering a kid and helping the system (as the article points out), but I’d recommend you add a link to those facts and stats.
My name is Billy Joe Cain and I run Radical Empathy Education Foundation. We use classroom materials and an interactive virtual reality experience to educate young people about how to avoid being trafficked. Check out our site to learn more.
Yikes! Should say “Great” not Greta. 🙂
One factor that I think is recently coming to play is the opioid/meth epidemic turning once productive people into criminals to support their habit. I think that there are some individuals who are attempting trafficking, thinking they can just steal a kid away and sell the minor to somebody they think will offer money. Of course, being they are not “professionals” at it so they do all the “wrong” things and their attempts get foiled. I recommend a healthy vigilance that we all should have when we are out and about, but yes we generally should not worry about strangers abducting us in otherwise safe places.
I came across this article as I was searching for others that may have had similar experiences as I did this week. I actually searched “Walmart not addressing stalkers in stores” and “Walmart hiding incidents.” I have never in my life felt uncomfortable in a public place with my children until this week in a WALMART store. I have no idea what the intentions of the men I encountered were, but I do know they intentionally made me uncomfortable. I did make a public post on my facebook page. It was very detailed which led some people to believe it was fabricated or made up. The reason I did that was because after Walmart failed to contact police, I did myself, to which I was encouraged to NOT make a police report. When officers asked to review the footage, Walmart didn’t even give them the part where one man made contact with me then proceeded to follow me through several aisles. They showed us walking in, going separate ways, then me talking to security! Walmart has denied this incident altogether to their employees that have asked, as well as concerned citizens of our town. The police, I am told, will be watching everything. I would like to clear something up, though. I have seen other posts on Facebook very similar to mine. Most of them explain what happened- many in detail and this is probably because the police fail to make reports. Walmart hides what they can! We want the details somewhere! I never assumed they were after us for sex trafficking, though. I haven’t seen anyone except commenters assume that. I have no idea what the intentions of these men were, but they most definitely made me feel as though my safety could be breached if I left that store alone with my kids. These men did shop and buy things- which was one of the first things brought to my attention when Walmart showed police what they wanted. They belittled me and allowed me to look like a fool. Because they shopped I guess I was a crazy person and making false assumptions. That is not true. And your story is very misleading. These things do happen in large stores! However, just because you see a woman share an experience of being followed doesn’t mean she is assuming they are sex traffickers! Nobody shiuld ever be made to feel as if their discomfort caused by another person is not valid because of opinions like yours. The men I encountered intentionally made me uncomfortable. I didn’t assume it was for sex trafficking.
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I believe you, Heather. I had not considered what was written from your perspective until I read your comment.
These things do happen in large stores, small stores, convenience stores, you name it. Dismissing it means you are definitely dismissing and possibly shaming others’ feelings and experiences.
I have friends that were kidnapped, raped, used for pornography, stolen in broad daylight or by their father of their children, and many other horrible things. All out of their control. These things did not happen to be by a “White Panel Van,” although that could happen. I also know people that were being physically pulled into vans in parking lots of big box stores and managed to wrestle away.
This is 100% real. Demanding some sort of “proof” is unrealistic. We see videos of people being gunned down in cold blood and don’t even believe those. I’d rather err on the side of believing those that claim these things are happening because that’s the right thing to do. Tiny things cannot be caught on cameras. Whispers, inappropriate eye contact, brushing against someone against their will and many other “signs” that something is wrong cannot and should not be ignored.
The way I see it is that if your “Spidey sense” is tingling, get away from that person and get toward a large group of people. In a store, that group should include employees.
I could go on and on about mentally ill people that do things you could never expect, but I think I’ve said what I need to.
Thanks for giving me the chance to put my thoughts down on (virtual) paper. And thank you, original author, for giving us something to discuss in a safe platform.