Senator Lauren Book: Masks Do Not Increase Kidnapping Risk

Florida is a hotbed for human trafficking but the founder of Lauren's Kids argues victims are almost always silenced by someone they know and come to trust.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has added additional fuel to the fire of the harmful disinformation and misinformation campaigns spread on “alternative fact” blogs and popular social media sites. The anti-mask movement is now attempting to prop up their dangerous agenda with the phony and false claim, that wearing a mask increases the risk of kidnapping and child sex trafficking – an assertion that is equal parts absurd and harmful.

Let me be clear: There is zero credible information to suggest that children wearing face masks to combat the spread of COVID-19 increases their risk of being kidnapped or trafficked (and while we’re at it – NO, mask-wearing does not dangerously decrease oxygen levels or cause children to get pinworm, as many of these same sources want you to believe). Face masks are an important public health tool and, according to the CDC, should be worn by children ages 2 and up in public settings when social distancing is not possible unless otherwise advised by a doctor.

This fearmongering on social media and beyond is an unacceptable attempt to commandeer the very real issues of kidnapping and child sex trafficking to further the anti-mask agenda. It is important to understand the real facts that surround human trafficking and child abduction — and unlike what the anti-mask brigade would have you believe, “stranger danger” is usually not a factor in the equation. Kids are virtually never grabbed off the street and pulled into an unmarked van. Most children who become victims of sex trafficking are groomed with false promises of love, safety, or opportunity. Some victims are trafficked by family members, recruited by peers (as we saw with the Jeffrey Epstein case), or “Romeo pimps” who pretend to have romantic interests before then tricking, trapping, and exploiting a young victim. Sometimes, explicit photos or drug use are held over a victim’s head by a trafficker in an effort to make the child or teen feel trapped and unable to access help. Again, while each case is unique, victims are almost always groomed into submission and silenced by someone they get to know and come to trust.

The anti-mask disinformation and misinformation campaign not only undermines the fight to stop COVID-19, it also perpetuates harmful falsehoods about the real dangers of trafficking that can leave children more vulnerable or even dead. Florida is a hotbed for human trafficking – the third highest trafficking destination in the country, in fact, with half of all victims being children. Human trafficking is the world’s fastest-growing criminal enterprise and is set to outpace drug trafficking. The problem is very real and it is growing – fast – aided purposely or otherwise by the kind of disinformation propagated by bogus anti-mask keyboard warriors.

Thankfully, distortions like the ones spread by this campaign are being combatted through school-based lessons now required to be taught statewide. The State Board of Education last year created a rule mandating developmentally appropriate human trafficking prevention lessons for children in grades K-12 aimed at helping protect children from being groomed into trafficking. This rule also requires dissemination of information to arm teachers and parents with the knowledge they need to recognize and report signs of exploitation.

Knowledge is power and Lauren’s Kids is proud to offer an instructive human trafficking prevention program developed by Florida educators, experts, and developmental psychologists at no cost to Florida’s traditional public and charter schools. Traffickers and child predators are smart – but together we can be smarter. It starts with rejecting harmful falsehoods like the messages being perpetuated on social media by this anti-mask movement – and instead providing accurate information to children and adults. This accurate and credible information can stop those who seek to harm our children in their tracks and help victims speak up and get help.

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