Even though sex trafficking is a massive industry with a dark underbelly in the United States, it’s easy to become desensitized to the fact that you could ever be a target. You don’t expect to be a witness of sex trafficking and its horrors in your everyday life because it’s so far removed from your reality, until it’s not.
Diandra Toyos, mother of three, recently shared a story of how she watched two men pursue her children in and around an IKEA where they were shopping for a new couch. She claims she had a gut feeling that they were sex traffickers who were targeting her two toddlers.
Two men, one middle-aged dressed in a suit and the other casually dressed and in his twenties, kept circling the area she was in with her kids. “I had a bad feeling. They just kept staring at my kids,” said Toyos. Toyos’ mother was there as well and was alarmed by the men who pretended to be looking at things but, “weren’t shopping. They weren’t looking at things…not really. The older man would occasionally pick something up and act like he was looking at it, but he’d look right over the top of it at my kids and then drop it and move on as soon as we did,” said Toyos.
At one point, Toyos and her family sat down in one of the display rooms for about 30 minutes, and so did the men. “They sat down on one of the couches on the display floor that faced us. That was when we knew our gut feeling was right and that something was off. They sat there the whole 30 minutes and then stood up right as we did.”
Toyos’ mother made eye contact with the older man to show him she was on to his plan, then the two spoke with security. “The men were hanging by the exit. IKEA is a massive confusing maze of a store. They could’ve easily run out that exit with my child and handed them off to someone waiting outside and been gone before I could find them,” said Toyos.
Toyos went public with her story so she could raise awareness about how sex trafficking really does affect our everyday lives and how we can’t turn a blind eye to it. She also helped by adding her experience to the growing list of places to watch out for suspicious activity. “I am almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking. If not that, something else shady was obviously going on. Either way, as parents, we need to be aware.”
Stories like Toyos’ are way too common. Police are being tipped off with similar stories all over the country. Whether it’s IKEA or a mom and pop furniture store, traffickers are everywhere ready to talk to your children when you’re too distracted. Stay informed and stay alert! And please, stay safe.