#sextrafficking | Marchers raise awareness of human trafficking | #tinder | #pof | #match

LIMA — Social media is filled with QAnon conspiracy theories, and the one most recently trending calls attention to child sex trafficking.

An article in the Aug. 12 New York Times claims that fans of the pro-Trump conspiracy theory are raising false fears about child exploitation. At one time Facebook banned the hashtag #SaveTheChildren for violating community standards.

On Saturday, there was a “Save the Children Walk” at Lima’s Town Square.

Patty Harris, of Lima, says she’s been influenced by the QAnon movement.

“They’re the ones who actually brought (child trafficking) to my attention. About four years ago, I started following Q and their movement brought this to my attention. So I’ve been following them.”

The sign she carried said “Q wwg1wga”

“This means where we go one we go all,” Harris said.

Organizers of the walk claimed that 17,500 children are trafficked into the U.S. every year and that there are 30 million slaves in the world today, 10 million of those children. They also claim that 22,000 children go missing every day and that 800 thousand children go missing every year.

But according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, those reported missing are actually 2,000 per day, not 22,000.

According to the Polly Klaas Foundation, 99.8% of children who go missing come home and that only about 100 children are kidnapped each year in the stereotypical stranger abductions you hear about on national news. About half of these children come home.

Some social media posters inflate those numbers, with one posting on Twitter claiming, “A child is trafficked every 30 seconds in the U.S. at the average rate of 12 million a year with the average age being 12 years old.”

The guest speaker at the Lima Save the Children Walk was Rebecca McDonald, founder and president of Woman At Risk International, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization established to create circles of protection around at-risk women and children.

It’s something she’s been involved in for decades, before the QAnon movement.

“I’m very apolitical and we are very non-sectarian and so I want nothing to do with that. The wonderful thing about this country is everybody has a right to say whatever they want but I will not be pigeonholed into any of that. I can’t stop them from doing that,” McDonald said.

Allen County Crime Victim Services was not able to be represented at the walk but they did send some brochures about the facts behind not only child sex trafficking but human trafficking in general.

Raven Loaiza, advocacy coordinator with Allen County Crime Victim Services, says they’ve handled about 100 human trafficking cases over the past two years and while child sex trafficking is happening, it’s not as large of a problem as posters to social media sites might have you believe.

“A lot of people are putting information out there without fact-checking and it’s simply spreading information that’s incorrect. So human trafficking is not the white child molester van pulling up to the Lima Mall and snatching someone up and throw them in the back and selling them online or elsewhere. That’s not what human trafficking looks like — definitely not in our area,” Loaiza said. “Sometimes it could be like a parent that has some addiction issues, and they run out of options to pay for drugs. So then they basically start pimping out their children. It also looks like friends, significant others, parents, uncles and aunts and other people in authority that prey on vulnerable people, not just children, and they establish that rapport and they make that connection with the person and then they start to exploit them.”

Loaiza says if people are sharing factual information, it can be helpful.

“We put this on our Facebook page the other day. We were talking as a group because we’ve been doing this work for years and then all of a sudden, people kind of want to change the narrative of other things that are in the news. So they’re like, oh, let’s talk about child sex trafficking, but the information that they’re sharing is not accurate information. So, it can be very challenging for us because we want people to talk about it but we also want factual information shared.”

Followers of QAnon were represented at Saturday’s Save The Children Walk in Lima’s Town Square.

Founder and president of Women at Risk International Rebecca McDonald speaks before the Save the Children Walk held in Town Square on Saturday afternoon.

People march in the Save the Children Walk in Lima’s Town Square on Saturday afternoon.

Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.

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