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My daughter is just shy of her ninth birthday. In her eyes, this is old. Old enough to have her ears pierced. Old enough to ride the BIG roller coaster. Old enough to go to the park alone. Or not. 
The other day she asked, “Mommy, when are you going to let me go to the park by myself?” The park in question is around the corner and down the street from our house. In my head I was screaming, “Never!” Out loud I gave her the universal noncommittal answer, “When you’re older.”
As a parent I want so desperately to protect my kids from the big bad that is out there. To keep them sheltered in an impenetrable bubble. But I also want to do my job. A large part of which is raising them to be independent. I remember as a kid having free-run of the neighborhood with all of the other kids on our street. It was an age before cell phones and organized play dates. Our parents had no idea where we were half the time but trusted that when the street lights came on, we would come home. And we did.
Unfortunately my desire to give my kids increasingly more freedom is being hampered by the terrifying stories circling social media. While I realize that you cannot live in fear and sometimes you just need to step out in faith, I admit that part of me would love to just hightail it out to the middle of nowhere. A place with no internet. No cable. No social media. No scary people.
Recently Diandra Toyos garnered attention for her Facebook post (which can no longer be accessed) about her trip to Ikea with her mother and three children. She stated that two men were stalking them and that, “I am almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking.”
A few days later Katt Marie posted of a similar experience with a potential predator in a Walmart in Beloit, Wisconsin. She took a photo of a man who allegedly followed her family for almost an hour, keeping a close eye on her daughter, Kinsley. 
“He picked up random kids clothes acted like he was looking at clothes with no kids or anything with him.”
After Katt made an attempt to approach the man in question, he took off.
“We later asked the head of security if this man was an employee and told him what happened . He said no that man is absolutely not an employee n he immediately got on the phone with police and notified the workers never would i ever think we would have to worry about someone trying to steal our kids. I been reading a lot about human trafficking but never did i ever think this would happen to us. Be careful and keep your eyes on your babies please. This happened at Walmart in Beloit wi.”
Okay, I am never taking my kids out in public again. Except… What are the chances that human traffickers are trolling my local stores, waiting to pounce on my children as soon as I turn my back?
I turned to Dr.Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco for her expert opinion. She holds a Ph.D. in Criminology, Law and Society and is specialized in human trafficking. She is also the author of the forthcoming book on the realities of human trafficking, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium.’
She feels that there is a danger in taking to social media to address the issue.’
“Given my experience as a human trafficking expert witness, I believe this story perpetuates common misconceptions about how human trafficking happens in real life. Although kidnapping is possible, experienced human traffickers are skilled in recruiting victims through false promises, deception, faux relationships, and other forms of fraud.”
She has conducted over 2,000 interviews with human traffickers and victims and discovered that kidnapping is very rare. In addition, her research has not come across any instance of someone being taken from a public place, such as Ikea or Walmart.
In an interview with CBS News, she further states, “It’s not happening overnight or as some people have described ‘in a matter of seconds or minutes,’” she said. “I’ve seen them take as long as a year or two years before they lure their victim away. It’s a long-term process.”
This is not an excuse to allow your children to run wild and free with no adult supervision. It is important to use commonsense, be aware of your surroundings and listen to that mama bear intuition when it unleashes warning bells in your head. It does however, give a bit of perspective into the paranoia that is being perpetuated on social media.
Perhaps I won’t go live in the bush after all.

Heidi Hamm

Heidi Hamm is a writer, wife and mom of twin boys who are nothing alike, and their older sister, who won’t admit that she really does like 80s music. She loves bookstores, Starbucks and peanut butter. You can find her on Facebook

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