Awhile back, I fell into a trap.
I was told, by a friend, a story about a girl who was stabbed by a needle under a stall of a public restroom. She came close to being abducted.
For six months after, I was afraid to pee in a public restroom.
When I did have to go, I strategically picked the stall closest to the wall and sat with my legs all twisted up and uncomfortable, as far away as possible from the other stall and all potential needles.
My few moments of peace and quiet in the bathroom were constantly and totally interrupted by fear.
It was the worst when we stopped as a family at rest stops. I wasn't just afraid of my children getting kidnapped; I had to worry about myself, too. I scrutinized every person who walked within six feet of me, wondering whether or not they were trying to capture one of us and sell us into sex trafficking.
But it turns out my fears were for nothing. Both things were soon debunked.
The scary story about getting stabbed with a needle from under a bathroom stall? It was one of those hyped up stories people invent to see how far it will spread online.
I should have known, but it was just so believable the way the story was told to me. It happened to someone’s cousin’s friend. I mean, how could that not be true? Why are these things always so obviously ridiculous only in hindsight?
And being abducted in a Walmart parking lot or at a rest stop? Highly unlikely. I recently attended a talk by a woman who is part of the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force, which has trained 3,000 law enforcement officials and service providers to deal with traffickers.
She told us sex trafficking isn’t something to worry about in parking lots and rest stops. It has a one in a million chance of happening.
Instead, sex trafficking affects marginalized kids and adults who nobody will notice are missing. At least 47 Nebraska school girls are known to be trafficked each year, but the actual number is likely higher, according to the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force. Additionally, 900 individuals are offered for sex online each month in Nebraska, according to a Human Trafficking Initiative study.
During the talk, we learned helpful tips such as what to watch for to spot a victim and how we can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 and report it. I put the number in my phone so I have it fast if I ever need it.
The speaker also gave us a website where we can get factual information about human sex trafficking so we can keep our kids, ourselves and other people safe.
As parents, we are obviously worried about our kids' safety, but as a mom, I find I’m more worried about myself than when I was younger because I have a heightened understanding of how much my kids need me.
Instead of worrying about needles under a stall, these last few months have taught me it’s important to educate myself. I've learned to take a second to think about what makes me really scared and then seek out ways I can gather actual facts from official resources that can give me the facts. (Hint: it's not Facebook)
We don’t need to live in fear, but we do need to educate ourselves so we can keep our family and ourselves safe.