When one mom and her family set out for a trip to IKEA, they thought they’d end the day with taking home a new couch. Little did she know, however, that she’d have a terrifying experience that she’ll never forget. When planning a trip to IKEA, you expect to have a day filled with picking out build-it-yourself furniture, Swedish meatballs, and probably a cinnamon roll or two. There are some brave parents out there who choose to forgo the in-store childcare, bringing their kids along for the ride throughout the large, winding store. Although they might expect a few annoyances along the way, none of them would ever think they’d encounter a lurking child trafficker, but that’s exactly what one mother said happened to her.
Their normal day took a terrifying turn.
Diandra Toyos wrote about her recent experience during an IKEA shopping trip with her three kids and her mother, and the post quickly went viral. As Toyos and her family searched the store for a new couch, she said she noticed a middle-aged man who was fairly well-dressed walking around the area in circles. She didn’t think much of him at first, but that all changed in an instant.
He started creeping toward her family.
Toyos began to notice that the man wasn’t really looking at anything in the store, only picking things up occasionally and putting them back down. He never strayed from the area she and her family were in, and at one point was so close to her children that Toyos instinctively moved herself between them and the man. “I had a bad feeling,” she said. “He continued to circle the area, staring at the kids.” The man continued to pick things up here and there but eventually began to stare at her children while doing it, probably not even noticing what he was actually touching. “My mom noticed as well and mentioned that we needed to keep an eye on him,” Toyos said. “We moved on…and so did he. Closely.” As she and her family continued to walk around the store, Toyos said her mother noticed another man walking in circular patterns around the same area they were, this one a little younger and somewhere in his twenties.
She felt in her gut that something was wrong.
Toyos decided that she and her family were just going to sit down until the men moved on. It never happened, though. As soon as she and her family sat down on one of the display couches, the men sat down on another one that faced the family. Toyos knew it was no coincidence—they sat there for around 30 minutes, and so did the men. They only managed to lose the men after Toyos’ mother made prolonged eye contact with them, letting them know she knew they were there and she thought they were up to something. The men seemed to disappear after that, and Toyos continued to shop with her family, but all of the enjoyment of the day was gone after that. “[We] still kept the kids right with us the whole time,” she said. “I kept the baby in the sling which kept my hands free and my eyes too. I didn’t have to keep an eye on the stroller AND two kids… I just had to watch my older ones.”
She decided they needed to get out.
After winding their way through the rest of the store, Toyos and her mother stopped to talk to a store security officer and report what had happened to them. She then decided she needed to share their experience so other parents could be on the lookout for similar activity not just in IKEA stores, but anywhere they take their kids. “I am almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking,” she said. “This is happening all over. Including the United States. It’s in our backyards. I’m reading more and more about these experiences and it’s terrifying. If not that, something else shady was obviously going on. Either way, as parents, we NEED to be aware.” She’s absolutely right, too. Human trafficking is a thriving industry, one that generates around $32 billion each year, and it exists in each and every state in the country. Whether you’re a parent or just trying to look after yourself when you’re out in the world, there are certain things everyone can do to keep themselves and their families safe.
Stranger danger exists, but…
We all know that it’s important to teach children not to get too close to people they don’t know or wander off with them, and the rhyming phrase “stranger danger” is a convenient way to get children to remember that. The problem with this, though, is that it doesn’t cover all the bases. In fact, your child is far more likely to be harmed by someone they already know. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that out of all reported kidnappings in the year 2000, more than 75 percent of them were carried out by acquaintances or family members. Make sure you trust the people who are around your children, and don’t tell your kids that they have to be around or listen to someone just because they’re a sibling, uncle, grandparent, or friend.
It’s important to follow your instincts (like Toyos did) and pay more attention when something feels off to you. Try to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and make sure you report anyone who seems suspicious.
Recognize the signs.
There are many signs you can look out for that can indicate someone may be a victim of human trafficking. These include: Having a malnourished appearance. They may even talk about not having access to proper healthcare. Physical signs that the person is abused, such as marks around their wrists, bruising, or cuts. Living or working in conditions that have high amounts of security, such as bars on the windows of the building, barbed wire fences, and security cameras. They may not be allowed breaks and often aren’t paid. A lack of personal belongings. They may not have access to their own identification cards or banking information, and sometimes they aren’t allowed to actually speak to others. Avoiding social contact with others. They may seem incredibly nervous and refuse to make eye contact, or appear anxious, depressed, submissive, and fearful, especially when the threat of calling law enforcement is made.
Keep identification updated.
Yes, it can be a pain to take young children in to have an ID card made, but it could be what saves their life if they’re ever abducted. Putting together a child ID kit for each of your children can be one of the most helpful tools for law enforcement if they ever need to search for them, and they’re ultimately pretty simple to complete. It is recommended that the kits contain a color photo of the child that is recent (no more than six months old), a full description of the child, fingerprints taken by a professional, dental records, and some type of DNA. That last portion might sound surprising, but DNA can be taken from a number of sources like old toothbrushes, used bandages that contain the child’s blood, the child’s baby teeth, or even an old hair brush with some strands still in it. You can also purchase DNA kits, but these suggestions include simple items that you could gather at any time.
Remember escape techniques.
Whether it’s for you or your child, there are a number of techniques that can be used to make an attacker flee. Remember one word—velcro. If you ever find yourself in a situation where someone is trying to drag you, hold on to whatever you can like a piece of velcro and fight as hard as you can to hold on. Attackers will typically go for an abduction that’s easier, and making it easier for them is the last thing you want to do. Yell. Loudly. Try to call as much attention to yourself and the situation as you can. Like the velcro technique, it can make the abductor feel like they won’t be able to take you without a fight. You can also buy your child a whistle that they can use if they notice someone acting strangely or coming near them. Use the swimming or windmill technique, which involves swinging your arms around wildly, as if you’re doing a backstroke. Doing so can prevent whoever’s attacking you from getting a firm grip on you, and you might even get in a good swing at them while you’re at it.