One of our roles at Let Grow is to act as a reality check. When urban myths about stranger danger spread far and wide, we come to believe the world is too dangerous to let our kids out into it. And so today's reality check is about a woman who got into an Uber at the Tampa Airport and proceeded to write this harrowing Facebook account, shared half a million times:
Since the print is so small, here is what she wrote:
Last night I was picked up by an Uber. Same car, female driver. I MADE A MISTAKE. I got in before checking, as she opened the back door for me from her seat. She drove erratically and didn't speak. About 10 minutes in, my actual Uber called me asking where I was. My voice cracked, because in that instant I knew. "A car... I think I need help." She told me not to hang up and to get out of the car however I possibly could. The lady refused to stop or respond to me. I told her she was driving by my friends (random girls I saw) and they would call the cops. She slowed a little, pointing at her phone saying "Uber. I take you back then." I said, no here is fine. She kept going. I booked it out the door, car still moving. She sped off.
I later was told by numerous people she is a sex traffic worker. They use women to lure people in, and possibly hang out in the Uber lot to steal rides of similar looking cars. The cops didn't come, but my real Uber driver did Cristin Cinquino, and hugged me, kept me safe, and cried with me. Always, always check your Uber. I'm lucky.
Actually, she was unlucky. She got in the wrong Uber and it proceeded to take her in the wrong direction. But as the Orlando Sentinel soon reported:
Tampa police, however, say it was all a misunderstanding. Hurley's ride wasn't a kidnapping situation, and the driver wasn't a sex-trafficking victim, police said.
"The person that posted it got into the wrong car and there was a language barrier," Durkin told the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday. "It's as simple as that. This had nothing to do with sex trafficking."
The police checked out the story with everyone involved and considers the case closed.
So the questions become: Why did this woman immediately leap to "I'm being sex trafficked!" -- and why did half a million people eagerly share it?
The answer to the first is because sex trafficking is an obsession at the moment. It has become a go-to eyeball-getter in the media, where it is portrayed "Taken"-style: Some random stranger grabs a random young person and sells them at the equivalent of a Sotheby's auction.
In reality, Beth Boggess, FBI supervisory special agent who heads Colorado’s violent crimes against children unit, explained to KUSA TV:
...human traffickers tend to lure vulnerable teens over time. “It’s a completely different crime,” Boggess said. “We don’t see kidnapping for human trafficking.”
So if sex traffickers aren't kidnapping people right and left, why does a Facebook post like this one get shared so much?
I think there's two things going on, besides a mistaken perception of the magnitude and M.O. of this crime:
1 - We love to be helpful. If all it takes to save a life is to press "share" -- who wouldn't?
2 - We also love to be at the center of excitement. If, by sharing this post, we are playing a small role in this thrillingly heinous story, well, it's better than no walk-on part at all.
The problem is that by sharing we are not spreading helpful advice. We are spreading a damaging virus: fear.
So if you'd like to share the antidote, a reality check, do. Consider sharing this very post, or this one the site Truth or Fiction, which is even more thorough (quoting us and also the Crimes Against Children Research Center director David Finkelhor).
WOMAN NOT SEX-TRAFFICKED BY UBER DRIVER! Pass it on. - L