When I joined the anti-human trafficking movement, I was impressed by how apolitical it was.

The first federal legislation regarding human trafficking – the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 – was sponsored by 38 Republicans and Democrats and passed almost unanimously.

Republicans and Democrats could agree on one thing at least – human trafficking is evil and must be stopped.

Unfortunately, in today’s political climate, nothing is apolitical. We have right-wing conspiracy groups seeking to affiliate themselves with the anti-human trafficking movement, so they can hijack the platform.

As someone who has been trying to educate the public about human trafficking since 2006, I should be thrilled the issue of child sex trafficking is being heard by a national audience, right?

Unfortunately, QAnon is spreading misinformation and outright lies about what human trafficking looks like in the U.S.

And if everyone believes QAnon’s version of human trafficking, they won’t be looking for human trafficking where it actually is – in their own backyards.

This politicization of human trafficking can also cause division within the anti-human trafficking movement and can lead to the misuse of resources.

QAnon tries to affiliate themselves with legitimate groups, only to use these groups as a platform to spread their conspiracy theories.

Recently, I saw a Facebook repost from a respected anti-human trafficking colleague. “The real pandemic is pedophillia (sic) – We do not believe in the election infection –  #savethechildren.”

I visited the Save the Children website and found this statement: “While many people may choose to use our organization’s name as a hashtag to make their point on different issues, we are not affiliated or associated with any of these campaigns.”

Their name was hijacked by QAnon to promote an idea they definitely don’t support (COVID-19 isn’t really an issue) and one that isn’t their core mission (anti-pedophilia).

A group appearing to be affiliated with QAnon used the Save Our Children name and posted on Facebook: “Every 40 seconds a child is abducted in the US. That means 90 children are taken every hour. That’s 540 kids taken away from loved ones ever (sic) 6 hours. That’s an unimaginable 2160 children in just one single day.”

That would be 788,400 kidnapped children in one year.

However, information from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) states, “According to the FBI, in 2019 there were 421,394 National Crime Information Center entries for missing children (Note: This is all missing children, not just kidnapped children). In 2019 NCMEC assisted law enforcement and families with more than 29,000 cases of missing children. Less than 1 percent were nonfamily abductions. Ninety-one percent were endangered runaways. Of the nearly 26,300 runaways reported to NCMEC in 2019, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking.”

If parents are convinced child trafficking happens by kidnapping, then their efforts to protect their children will not be focused on how children are actually trafficked.

Traffickers groom and recruit children by pretending to be friends and boy/girlfriends, sometimes online and sometimes in person.

If people are looking for kidnappers, they will see them and make calls that distract resources from actual cases of trafficking.

For instance, the National Human Trafficking Hotline published a statement on July 20: “Over the past several days the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received hundreds of reports that reference a series of viral posts claiming online retailer Wayfair has been involved in a complex scheme involving sex trafficking of children. While Polaris treats all calls to the Trafficking Hotline seriously, the extreme volume of these contacts has made it more difficult for the Trafficking Hotline to provide support and attention to others who are in need of help.”

This politicization has another – perhaps unintended – consequence. It makes anti-trafficking groups suspicious of newcomers and, perhaps, distrustful of one another.

This week, our nonprofit was invited to speak at a walk sponsored by a group I won’t name. The invitation was from a complete stranger, and I had never heard of this group.

When I asked the inviter for more information, I was given a website that is very short on information about the group.

It has no contact information at all except an email address, no information about the founders, staff, board, volunteers, no previous activities and no groups with which they are affiliated. All the contacts listed on their “global network” are private Facebook groups.

It’s possible this group is legitimate, brand new and, therefore, does not have a robust website yet.

But since I had just read this article from The New York Times, I’m skeptical and unwilling to risk my nonprofit’s reputation by being affiliated with this event.

I hope for a day when we can travel back to the 2000 mindset – human trafficking is evil, and we should all work to stop it.

And no one should get away with using the plight of vulnerable victims to further a political agenda.

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