Beginning in the summer of 2020, rumors began circulating online about complex schemes involving child sex trafficking. These rumors, though proven false, ignited the use of #SaveTheChildren/#SaveOurChildren, further circulation of misinformation including false numbers about the problem, and even in-person events around the country. The barrage of misinformation, hashtags and online chatter has left many people who care deeply about this issue confused about what to believe, and how to help. Here are some answers we hope will be useful.
I care deeply about child sex trafficking. Should I get involved in the #SaveTheChildren events, use the hashtag or share information from others who do?
There are organizations in virtually every state and community that have been working for many years to support victims and survivors and reduce trafficking. They need your help. Here is a good way to find some of them in your community. Additionally, please see 20 actions you can take in 2020. Please consider supporting and working with organizations that do not necessarily directly work on human trafficking but whose work to strengthen families and communities and fight poverty, discrimination and injustice help to change the conditions the make human trafficking possible.
There have been a number of articles and news reports lately about QAnon and its relationship to this hashtag. Some may have their own spin or agenda. We suggest you review a range of articles from verified sources to form a balanced view of the issue and how you can help. Potential sources include:
- Journalists enter the world of Qanon
- QAnon Followers are Hijacking the SaveThe Children Movement
- Evangelical Leaders Denounce Qanon
- The Gospel Coalition: What Christians Should Know about Qanon
- Child sex trafficking organizations debunk qanon conspiracies
- Kooky conspiracy theories are detracting from the very real issue of child trafficking
Polaris’s mission is to reduce and prevent sex and labor trafficking and help survivors regain their freedom. QAnon and similar groups have an agenda that has little or nothing to do with reducing human trafficking and whose real aim is creating an atmosphere of fear and division. All evidence shows that QAnon is behind the #SaveTheChildren hashtag and various rallies, events and misinformation spread under that umbrella. Research into the way such groups operate shows very clearly that the best way to spread fear and division online is to focus on issues and topics – such as child exploitation – that spark strong emotions and inspire people to act on those emotions – whether they are based on real, factual information or not.
Polaris and many other organizations that work to protect children and families are deeply concerned that the spread of intentional disinformation about how child sex trafficking happens in most situations is detracting from the very real, very important work of helping families to protect children and working to change the conditions in which trafficking thrives – poverty, abuse, addiction, hopelessness, discrimination, to name but a few.
Do you think that QAnon’s focus on child sex trafficking and the misinformation being spread is taking away from the real advocacy and help to those in need? Or do you think there is truth to them?
The information being spread online by people who are involved in or believe in the QAnon conspiracy is distracting from the very real, very important work of fighting sex trafficking. We are not privy to every post, discussion or theory put forth by QAnon followers but from what we know, the information they are sharing is false.
QAnon and similar groups have an agenda that has little or nothing to do with reducing human trafficking and whose real aim is creating an atmosphere of fear of division. Research into the way such groups operate shows very clearly that the best way to spread fear and division online is to focus on issues and topics that spark strong emotions and inspire people to act on those emotions. Child safety and child sexual abuse are among those issues.
Are there any benefits to QAnon bringing child sex trafficking into the spotlight? Isn’t all trafficking awareness good awareness?
Spreading misinformation about human trafficking, which is what QAnon has done, does far more harm than good. As a result of this misinformation, people who need immediate assistance from helplines are forced to wait on hold and may miss their opportunity to get out of real trafficking situations or to report valuable information about trafficking that is actually happening.
As for increasing awareness, while certainly there are people who are not aware of the details of how child sex trafficking operates, most people do understand that there are far too many children growing up in difficult circumstances, including homes that are unstable or where there is abuse or neglect. Those are the circumstances that allow sex trafficking to happen in most cases. What QAnon is spreading is simply not true, and misleads people into believing that the solutions to child sex trafficking have to do with politics, or entirely with law enforcement, when the reality is far different. If we spread misinformation about a crime, we are also spreading misinformation among the very people whose support and activism are needed to end it.
To the extent you believe the people in your life are open to discussion, consider directing them to more legitimate sources of information about child sex trafficking and human trafficking. Recognize, of course, that we are living in a deeply polarized time, that people are scared and worried about a range of issues that are manifesting in complex ways. Not everyone will be convinced by – or interested in – the realities of sex trafficking when they sound so much more mundane than some of the complex conspiracies and politically motivated hoaxes. Help them become better informed and explain how these conspiracies and the actions these groups trigger actually harms the victims of human trafficking.
Isn’t the Jeffrey Epstein case proof that there are cabals of powerful people sex trafficking children and working together to cover it up?
The Jeffrey Epstein case is actually quite typical of how human trafficking operates and the actual facts of the case prove what survivors of human trafficking have long taught us about how trafficking actually operates. Traffickers can be anyone, from any walk of life, any political party, any race, gender and so forth. What ties them together is that they have purposefully used their power to abuse people with less power, for some kind of profit – not necessarily material gain. That power can be financial but it can also be emotional. We also know that the vast majority of victims know, and in many cases, trust their traffickers before and sometimes long after the trafficking has begun. That too was the case with Jeffrey Epstein. His victims were befriended and manipulated into trafficking. They knew their abusers and were not snatched off the street.
We can’t give you a definitive answer and we know that’s frustrating. The best tool we can offer is information about how human trafficking, including child sex trafficking, actually happens in the United States in the vast majority of situations. To learn more about that, in addition to our site, there are numerous other organizations that have been working in the anti trafficking field for many years. A few suggestions for wading through the mass of material online include:
- Look for websites and materials created by organizations that are led by survivors of human trafficking now working in the anti trafficking field. The National Survivor Network maintains a list of survivor-led organizations. Here are just a few:
- Be skeptical of any organization or post that:
- Promotes conspiracies involving well-known figures in politics or entertainment with no documentation from law enforcement and no complaint from any who claims to have been victimized by these people
- Claims to “rescue” or “set free” adults in trafficking situations
- Either promotes racial, ethnic or religious stereotypes or has gotten their information about trafficking from an organization that does
- Uses “abduction” or “kidnapping” or missing children as a synonym for trafficking
- Avoid websites and posts that use sensationalistic imagery such as:
- “Victims” who are tied up or chained
- Images that focus on a particular human body part
- Images that suggest violent abduction, such as hands over mouths, white vans, etc.
- Images that further dehumanizes survivors, such as women in meat-packaging
What’s the harm in reporting things we see online but don’t have other personal knowledge of to Polaris, police, or other agencies. Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?
Polaris follows a series of important but time-consuming steps to ensure all reported information is shared with all relevant parties. A surge in well-intended but inaccurate, secondhand reports means our team is less available to provide support and attention to others who are seeking help in a timely way. That has real consequences. We will never know what we missed. We will never know if there was someone on the other end of the line, on hold, who had a brief window of opportunity to call for help when their trafficker had left the room. We will never know who held on the line for 15 minutes, then hung up the phone and gave up hope. That is why we ask for careful consideration before reporting information learned about secondhand, from online sources.
Do you have any guidance on the kinds of information to report to the Polaris that is helpful and actionable?
The “tips” and reports of possible trafficking situations that are most actionable come from individuals who are concerned about a person they personally know in some way or a situation that they personally have some information about. We refer to this as “context” and “proximity.” Having proximity does not mean you have to be extremely close with someone to understand that they may need assistance, or that you have to have every single detail of what is going on. But some relationship to the potential victim or trafficker – even in passing – coupled with your knowledge of how human trafficking actually works – the “story” rather than simply a checklist of “red flags” or “visible signs” – gives Polaris and other agencies who help trafficking victims and survivors something sufficient and actionable to work with.
Are you going to make a public statement about QAnon and its followers infiltrating the trafficking movement?
We will continue putting out information about how human trafficking really works in the vast majority of cases in order to give the public the facts they need to be part of the solution. We will also continue to make clear that there is substantial evidence showing much of the misinformation about sex trafficking that has been spread since this summer was put forth by individuals and organizations whose agenda has nothing to do with reducing sex trafficking or keeping children safe and whose real aim is to spread fear and division in our society.