Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Ye Olde Ikea Sex Traffickers

Moral panic over abductions is nothing new.

We are in the midst of a massive mommy moral panic. Across the country, mothers are writing breathless accounts on Facebook of how sex traffickers nearly snatched their children at Target/Ikea/the grocery store.

While at Sam's Club, one such post explains, "a man came up to us and asked if the empty cart nearby was ours.…He was an African American with a shaved head.…It seemed like an innocent encounter." Innocent, that is, until the mom and kids headed to Walmart and there was the guy again, "feverishly texting on his phone but not taking his eye off my daughter."

It could only mean one thing, she wrote: "I have absolutely NO doubt that that man is a trafficker looking for young girls to steal and sell."

And I have absolutely no doubt that she's wrong. This is what security expert Bruce Schneier has dubbed a "movie plot threat"—a narrative that looks suspiciously like what you'd see at the Cineplex. The more "movie plot" a situation seems, the less likely it is to be real.

But it sells. A Facebook post by Diandra Toyos went wildly viral after she said she and her kids were followed by two men at Ikea. "I had a bad feeling," she wrote. Fortunately, she "managed to lose them."

Which, frankly, is what one does at Ikea, even with people one is trying not to lose. Nonetheless, the post ricocheted through the media. CBS told viewers that while experts found the scenario unlikely, "that doesn't mean Toyos didn't have reason to be concerned."

Actually, it does.

When yet another post from another mom took off in Denver, local news outlets had to run stories reassuring parents that there had been no legitimate sex trafficking reports in the area. The Littleton Independent also informed people that an earlier story about a man "kidnapping" a child in front of the local library turned out to be about a guy moving a stroller out of the way so he could get to his car.

David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, says parents always worry about their kids. But more and more, that primal fear "gets paired with the fact that we live in a very heterogeneous society, where we encounter lots of people whose behavior and motives we can't read, we can't identify with." It's a big case of fear of The Other.

Had Finkelhor heard of a single case where a child was taken from a parent in public and forced into the sex trade? No. Because it's not happening. Actual traffickers build relationships with the young people they go on to exploit, usually troubled or runaway teens. No one is spiriting 2-year-olds from Target.

These Facebook posts about fiends snatching innocent children are eerily reminiscent of an older, more pernicious scare: a corrosive lie called the "blood libel," in which Jews during medieval times were said to be killing Christian children and using their blood to make matzah. But while the blood libels were directed against a single group, medieval scholar Emily Rose points out, the Facebook posts aren't, though they often mention men of a different ethnic background than the writer. In that sense, today's stories are more like generic stranger danger.

But then Rose describes the most famous blood libel of all: the 1475 abduction and murder of a young Italian boy, Simon of Trent.

A Jew was accused of killing him for his blood. It was not the first such story, but this one spread like wildfire thanks to a brand new social medium: print. Posters and poems disseminated the allegations; Trent became a pilgrimage destination. "So Simon goes viral," Rose explains, and now everyone "wants their own."

Across the continent, people started claiming that a Christian child had been murdered by a Jew in their town, too. "Most of these kids didn't even exist," Rose says, "and if they did exist, they weren't killed." But that didn't stop the stories from catching on. And the people repeating them were no longer just plain peasants in a two-bit town. Suddenly, says Rose, "you feel part of something bigger."

Today's panicked moms probably don't see themselves playing a role that goes back centuries. But the only thing new is the medium they're using to spread fear.

Photo Credit: Joanna Andreasson

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Jan Brunvald found this "problem" back when shopping malls started replacing local stores. It was general kidnapping, though, not specifically for sex. The kidnappers managed to change the child's clothes except the sneakers, which the mom recognized. Similar "issues" with large amusement parks, too.

  • Cy||

    Ha! Modern amusement parks are basically giant day cares in the summer. Parents pay for the annual membership and then just drop their kids off for 10 hour of the day.

    Yes... this is a thing.

  • Arcxjo||

    The kid didn't have a face?

  • Spinach Chin||

    "ls this your child, ma'am?"

    "I don't know - let me see his shoes!"

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    A Facebook post by Diandra Toyos went wildly viral after she said she and her kids were followed by two men at Ikea. "I had a bad feeling," she wrote. Fortunately, she "managed to lose them."

    Boring movie.

  • Radioactive||

    yeah, let's get back to a simpler time when you could libel someone just by screeching JEW and pointing at them!!!

  • Radioactive||

    no one wants your kids lady, and apparently nether do you...taking them to an IKEA, someone call CPS!!!

  • Brandybuck||

    IKEA is a pathed store. You enter one side, follow the arrows through the mini-maze, and leave at the other side. OF COURSE PEOPLE ARE FOLLOWING YOU! You're in a herd! welcome to Scandanavian shopping!

  • Cy||

    Psst.... WELCOME TO THE SAFEST TIME IN HISTORY! Not kidding. No bullshit. The world isn't going to end tomorrow. Jesus ain't coming back. The four horses are staying in the barn. Nobody wants your ugly ass annoying kids. You have better chances of winning the lottery than having your child abducted by someone you don't know. Pass it on.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Indeed.

    But as life has gotten easier, with few real anxieties, people turn their worries (and the brain functions that evolved to deal with real issues like lions and avoiding starvation) to more petty things. And to more imaginary things. And inflate these into all-consuming delusions.

    I think this explains at least part of the current paranoid phenomena, along with much of the SJW hysteria.

  • Cy||

    I think it's the recent advances in mass recording and distribution. Everyone in less than 10 years has acquired the ability to record and distribute events, both in detail and quickly. It makes things more vivid. It adds fuel to everyone's imagination.

    In regards to the police brutality side of it, it challenges a lot of people's cognitive dissonance.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    People tend to overlook the fact that actual incidents are shocking and attract such attention precisely because they are rare. We get used to the commonplace.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Around the same (medieval) time as "the blood libel" Lenore mentions, parents were also spreading stories about changelings. That's where babies got taken by the fairies, who presumably needed the occasional human to strengthen their bloodline or perform menial chores, and substituted a similar-looking but sickly or sinister child in place of a the healthy kid they'd grabbed.

    What parents ignore is the simple fact that other people, while they might like their own kids, do not like YOUR kids. It's some sort of biological thing. If it's yours, it's a sweet little cherub. But if it's someone else's, it's a snot-nosed poop machine with a screeching voice and grubby fingers.

  • Radioactive||

    and even the Fae don't want these whiney little basterds

  • Boomer||

    Even MINE were snot-nosed poop machines with schreeching voices and grubby fingers. They were also little liars and thieves. And their feet stank.

    But I still love them...

  • Radioactive||

    with fava beans an d a nice chianti?

  • Longtobefree||

    Based on the theory that unconstitutional gun control is required to stop violent people, then unconstitutional speech control is required to stop child sex trafficking.

    Ban all cell phones and tablets immediately!!!
    Facebook, twitter, and all the rest of 'social media' as well!!!
    Only law enforcement and politicians should have free speech!!!

    (Now, can we discuss reasonable restrictions on women and children in public places?

  • Dead inside||

    I'm wondering why the writer switched the narrative from child snatching hysteria to tales of blood libel. While both are tales of public panic the latter seems out of place. It seems to me there is enough/plenty to write about on the modern version and no real need to go back 600 years to make a comparison to an event that evolved a dissimilar group.
    (i.e. Jews vs child sex slaves?)

  • Spinach Chin||

    Actually, the Jews in her analogy are... child sex traffickers. Which makes it all the more bizarre.

  • Boomer||

    She's simply making the point that this isn't a new phenomenon.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    The blood libels spread with the new media technology, making them analogous to the social media hysteria of today. In contrast, the Salem "witches" accused of harming children faced no challenges from recently invented media technology.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    The threat is real.

    I know that all of you want to rape me.

  • Longtobefree||

    Look in a mirror.
    (assuming you cast a reflection)

  • Radioactive||

    mmm...doubtful

  • kV||

    I always wondered about the legalities of plastering pics of a man and his car (including his un-obscured license plate) on FB, along with a story about how he was parked just three blocks away from the park and looked at your kid funny and he's probably a kiddie-diddler.

  • Boomer||

    For christ's sake, this woman is so obtuse she can't imagine someone shopping at both Sam's Club and Walmart in the same day even though she herself is doing exactly that.

    What a dullard.

    This happens to me all. the. time. I remember faces and I notice others shopping at the same time as me who end up in the same places as me. Luckily I have not yet been accused of human trafficking.

  • Eric L||

    I was thinking the same thing as I read the article. Where I live there is a Costco across the street from a Winco (a large discount grocery store) and a Target. Like many around here we go to one then the other. I am always seeing people from one store at the next store. It is a normal occurrence.

  • Spartacus||

    My weekly shopping involves trips to Costco and then to Publix. I see the same people in both stores an hour apart all the time. And they are probably doing the same thing as me...getting nonperishables at Costco and other things in smaller amounts at the regular grocery. Anybody who thinks this is unusual or scary is clueless.

  • Joe_C||

    That is BOTH unusual and scary. There's no reason to drive an hour away to a Costco when you're 15 minutes from a Publix—the best grocery chain in the free world. You heathen. ;)

  • Earth Skeptic||

    So what poses the bigger risk to children? The imaginary toddler-snatching global slavery ring? Or the hyper-paranoid smothering suburban mom, backed up by social media and the state?

    Are we ready for the children of millennials?

  • cgr2727||

    Fear of children being snatched at Ikea? How do you think they make the meatballs?

  • sharmota4zeb||

    lol

  • Joec578||

    I wonder how likely these Facebook posters also believe in the Pizza Gate lie.

  • ||

    Whilst trying to be more Lenore-like I sent my 10 year old into a store by himself and told him to watch for dirty looks for fun. His report: "dirty looks for days!" He loves it.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Ye Olde Ikea Sex Traffickers

    Its good to see Ikea has a new choice of products in its venue.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    This is one of the reasons that as a single man I'm cautious about interacting with children. I like children, even when they're smearing their boogers on me (is that some sort of territory-marking thing?). But I don't want paranoid helicopter moms projecting their Lifetime television fueled nightmares onto me.

  • Joe Blowski||

    you need to be cautious. any man who works with youngsters is exceedingly careful.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I think some mom's go from screaming, "You will never have sex with me again," at their husbands during the pains of childbirth to dedicating their lives to finding imaginary evil sex that they must stop. A psychologist might see this as a form of displacement.

  • Joe Blowski||

    or that sex is evil.

  • Joe Blowski||

    everybody knows the real threat to children is satanic cults. also, gay 'recruiting.'

  • JuanQPublic||

    Not only is this not a new phenomenon, but much study has been done on moral panics and public hysteria. The psychology of it is pretty interesting.

    Also, the Bill of Rights is a safeguard against the "tyranny of the majority", which includes a low-info, high-paranoia public.

  • Jakester||

    Reminds me of all the Satanic day care center fables

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online