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'We don't need sensationalism around human trafficking' | Texas experts discuss human trafficking misconceptions after viral social media post

This comes after a Texas woman claimed men surrounded her at a gas station, attempting to kidnap her. Temple Police confirmed it was all a misunderstanding.

TEXAS, USA — A viral social media post has put human trafficking in the spotlight after a Temple woman claimed men surrounded her at a local gas station, attempting to kidnap her on Wednesday, Aug. 9.

It's a scary situation for anyone to be in, but the City of Temple confirmed there wasn't a police report ever made at the time of the alleged incident. 

Temple Police told 6 News the department reached out to the woman to investigate and confirmed it was all a misunderstanding with video surveillance footage from the gas station. 

Lead Detective of the McLennan County Sheriff's Office Human Trafficking Unit, Joseph Scaramucci says social media posts about kidnappings are usually sensationalized. 

From zip ties on car doors to tissues wedged in car door handles, Scaramucci says he has never documented any kidnapping case like this, despite working on hundreds of cases. 

Unbound Now Waco says they have served over 2,400 victims, but out of those victims, they have had only two kidnappings. 

Scaramucci and the CEO of Unbound Now, Susan Peters, both say misconceptions about human trafficking and kidnappings are part of the problem. It's not usually what you see on television or on social media.

"It really creates a false narrative," Scaramucci said. "It doesn't bring attention to the problem. If the story is sensational, there's a very good chance it's not true. You're doing nobody a service by continuing to share that on social media, and if you're the ones posting it, for whatever reason, you're doing nobody a service at all. You're creating more harm than good."

"We don't need sensationalism around human trafficking," Peters added. "It's already horrible enough."

Scaramucci and Peters say the majority of trafficking begins with grooming and connections in-person and online.

"I think some of the bigger warning signs would honestly be just the monitoring of social media and trying to find out who's in communication with your children," Scaramucci said.

"Be willing to have the uncomfortable conversations that you probably didn't have to have with your parents when you were a kid," said Peters.

Peters and Scaramucci are continuing to urge the community to take trafficking seriously.

"We want our community to know what trafficking looks like," Scaramucci said. 

"It's already traumatic enough," Peters said. "Most of the time, it's through coercion. It's through manipulating them because of their needs. There's already enough shame because of their experience and confusion because of the abuse. So, to paint the picture that a victim is someone who was kidnapped or chained in a basement, and that victim says, 'Well, that's not what happened to me. I thought he was my boyfriend. He told me we were going to have this life together. I thought I was making these choices, and I got stuck in this cycle, and does that lessen my experience as a trafficking victim?' That's why it's important to not sensationalize things that aren't accurate."

In a statement, Temple Police told 6 News the, "Police Department is dedicated to ensuring the safety and well-being of our community members."

Temple PD went on to say, "We urge everyone to remain vigilant and take proactive steps to safeguard themselves from the threat of trafficking and kidnapping. Staying aware of your surroundings, especially in unfamiliar environments, and trusting your instincts is essential." 

If you are worried for your safety, contact law enforcement immediately. Do not run to social media.

You can also help by supporting organizations like Unbound Now, which train to engage with victims to get them the best service.

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