Free-Range Kids

The IKEA Child Sex Trafficking Story Is Fake News

A highly unlikely crime.


Patrick Fallon/ZUMA Press/Newscom

A Southern California mom, Diandra Toyos, believes that when she, her mom, and her three young kids were shopping at Ikea, they were stalked by two men aiming to "traffic" the children. She wrote a Facebook post about it that went viral.

Of course it did. It had everything that's irresistibly sharable: A feisty mom, an evil dude or two, "Swedish" (that is, Chinese) furniture, and the sex trafficking of pre-pubescent children.

What's not to like?

So, after the zillionth person sent me the link, I wrote about it in The New York Post. As I pointed out, the mom's proof of her children's near doom was this: "Something was off. We knew it in our gut. I am almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking."

And I am almost sure they were not. Of course, if she felt uncomfortable, there was no reason not to skedaddle. But on Facebook she was telling other moms to be ultra-careful because, "this is happening all over," with no basis in fact:

Or, as I put it on my Free-Range Kids blog: "Pointlessly terrified mom warns other moms to be pointlessly terrified."

How dare I make light of such a serious situation? After all, mothers are gushing thanks for the post: "a great reminder that this kind of stuff can happen," wrote someone on Westchester Moms.

The praise is piling on — "Outstanding advice," "Good information!" — just as it did last week, when a very similar post went viral by a mom who thought kidnappers were about to snatch her baby out of her arms as she waited in line at the grocery store. (But she stared them down. Who knew kidnappers are such cream puffs?)

My point is not to make fun of the folks freaking out. My point is to try to give us all a reality check: Come on — two men are going to grab three kids, all under age 7, IN PUBLIC, in a camera-filled store, with the MOM and the GRANDMA right there, not to mention a zillion other fans of moderately priced furnishings?

Can we please take a deep breath and realize how insanely unlikely that is? How we don't need to be "warned" about this because NOTHING HAPPENED!

Of course, Reason readers know that you can tell nothing happened because the whole thing was described as an "incident." My #1 Rule of Reporting is: When something is called an "incident," it's because nothing happened.

How unlikely was this crime? I asked David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. He told me (via email):

"Child abduction rarely occurs in a crowded public venue like that, where help would be easy to muster. [Moreover] most sex-trafficking lures and abductions are of teenagers. Parents should spend their worry time on other perils."

So why don't they? The answer is in Diandra's own warning. She wrote that she'd recently read the story of yet another mom who said she and her kids had been targeted at (ironically!) Target. "I'm reading more and more about these experiences, and it's terrifying."

People are posting scary stories on Facebook that make parents paranoid, to the point where THEY post scary posts, which inspires MORE paranoia and scary posts.

That's exactly it: People are posting scary stories on Facebook that make parents paranoid, to the point where THEY post scary posts, which inspires MORE paranoia and scary posts, etc. etc.

What's worse, the effect is resonating far beyond the Facebook comment section. It is changing parenting — and childhood.

When we are warned over and over that our kids are in constant danger, even in the safest situations, we start to believe it.

From there it's just a baby step to childhood on lockdown, never letting our kids walk to school, arresting the parents who let their kids play in the park, smashing the window of the car in front of the dry cleaners, because the mom left the child napping there for three minutes. We will not tolerate parents who trust their kids and trust the odds.

Instead, gripped by hysteria, we are giving our children a childhood unlike our own — a childhood with no freedom at all — simply because someone pressed "share."

For more on misplaced paranoia about child kidnappings at IKEA, read Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown.

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  1. First you tell me Out Magazine is a gay publication, now this?

    1. Wouldn’t it make more sense to call it ‘In Magazine’? Or at least ‘In and Out’? Or ‘In and Out Through the Out Door’? Or something else more buttfucky?

  2. If you believe your child could get kidnapped at an IKEA, why would you bring your child to an IKEA?

    1. Not every child is one of God’s little miracles.

    2. Yes, you should just leave your child(ren) in your car in the parking lot.

    3. Yes, you should just leave your child(ren) in your car in the parking lot.

      1. Nah, just leave them at home. Toss a couple of snacks into their crate, change out the cedar chips if the piss and shit smell is getting too bad, and maybe a ball or something for them to play with and they’ll be fine.

    4. The meatballs are pretty good, and the mac and cheese tastes like the kind my grandma used to make.

    5. Or just leave them in Sm?land where potential kidnappers wouldn’t be able to find them all those balls.

  3. IKEA, eh?

    I’ve been looking to restock my stash of orphans.

    1. Get some of those meatballs while you’re there.

      1. And a lamp.

  4. Everyone knows you get your sex-slave children at pizza joints.

    1. Oily, garlic-scented children are not for everyone.

      1. It’s certainly more of a challenge to keep hold of them.

  5. It’s all just a myth. I was a very attractive child, and no one ever tried to abduct me. And believe me, I went everywhere without adult supervision. I couldn’t even get my priest to bite, although he was more of a boozer than a diddler. This idea that stranger predators are after your kids is ludicrous. They’re uggos compared to me.

    1. Maybe you should take another look at your kid photos, because I was also a very attractive child, didn’t even go to church, and I only managed to keep the perv hands off me with constant vigilance and guile.

      1. Hilarious! “You’re going to hell, dude”.

      2. So you’re Episiarch then?

        1. Nope, not Epi. I did used to use a different handle and sometimes I wonder if anyone’s figured out who I am, but I figure I’m such a minor player in the H&R commenter pantheon that no one really cares.

          1. I thought you were Loki.

      1. Maybe it’s just the Trump era, but I’m seeing Russian conspiracies everywhere.

  6. Who could have thunk that IKEA is the place where people go child-lifting ?

  7. I would be remiss if I did not introduce someone to the Ikea Song, by Jonathan Coulton.

    1. They forgot the part of the East German communist slave labor. But that’s okay- the German Ikea song doesn’t mention it either.

  8. Those two guys are lucky they didn’t shot by overzealous police. Just being out in public in the vicinity of paranoid females is dangerous for the average male. Adding IKEA to the list of places I am not allowed to visit as an ordinary middle aged male.

  9. Those two guys are lucky they didn’t shot by overzealous police. Just being out in public in the vicinity of paranoid females is dangerous for the average male. Adding IKEA to the list of places I am not allowed to visit as an ordinary middle aged male.

  10. Because baffling mazes with limited exits are the BEST places to make a quick getaway

  11. Sure. Your comment posts twice and mine vanishes.

    Privilege. I bet.

  12. My point is not to make fun of the folks freaking out.

    Why not? A little public humiliation might help them see the light.

    1. That’s pretty much exactly what I would do. Sex traffickers? This woman is dangerously stupid. She needs to be called to account for her dumb ass-ness.

  13. From what I understand, victims of human trafficking aren’t snatched from their upper- middle class suburban parents in public. They are usually runaways, children of drug attacks and other extreme cases that makes it easy for the traffickers to “disappear” these kids.

  14. As a kid I grew up in the hilly area of Echo Park. Our parents both worked. When we got home from school we had two rules: get your homework done and be home when we get home. For at least a couple of hours we were what they now call “free-range kids”. We roamed and rambled throughout the neighborhoods. OK, perhaps we should have given the risks a thought, but we didn’t. It was play time, and we played. None of us were kidnapped, or assaulted (except by other kids), or molested.

    Now granted things are not quite the same and reasonable precautions are justified, but in later years raising my 10-year-old son I gave him a mini-bike and he was a “free-range kid” in the hills of the rural area in which we then lived, with the same rules I had, plus one: if you go anywhere except over to X’s house, let me know where you are. He rode the hell out of that bike with his friends; they were never kidnapped, or assaulted, or molested.

    So while we need to be careful out there, we can’t swathe out kids in bubble wrap. Let them be kids, run and play, explore, take the ordinary chances of childhood. They say that the paranoia of terrorism makes us do things that mean the terrorists win. Can’t we say the same thing here about the overly protective policies we have embraced because of the myth of “stranger danger”?

  15. I tried reasoning with some of her devotees on the mom’s Facebook, but I just got more depressed. The closest I got to reason is the lady who told me my stats were correct, but I wasn’t a woman, so I wouldn’t understand.

  16. Republicans don’t like to remind people of their campaigns to ban condoms and birth control in general. To divert attention from their past opposition to medical examination of working girls near army bases in WWI they have fixated on channels of communication.
    Orkut was recently discontinued in Brazil, largely because teenage sex workers unimpressed by child labor laws used it to hawk their… um… unawares.

  17. What if something was off? Trafficking may be extreme but if you add sex offenders, pedophiles and rapists including those not on sex offenders registries and those never caugbt or convicted, murderers, thieves, muggers, violent gangmembers and violent lonewolf people, stalkers and “hired” stalkers for abusive people, sociopaths, psychopaths.. it is not at all far fetched. 100% of the time in all my 55 years that “gut” feeling has been correct. But by all means make fun of someone who was obviously frightened by these men and trying to protect children and herself. That is why it is so easy for those above crimes to be carried out in USA. Society is ignorant to signs of or they are abusive too. 40 people watched a video of a 14 yr old girl being raped by a gang. Not one reported it and most watched from beginning to end. The police officer finding it was horrified at how bad society was.

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