Conspiracy theories can hurt real, local efforts to combat child trafficking

Lynchburg & Central Virginia News

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — The YWCA of Central Virginia says between 2019 and 2020, the number of minors their Sexual Assault Response Program served rose from 80 to 101, an increase of 26%.

“Unfortunately, sexual assault and violence is probably more rampant than we would like to believe,” said Executive Director Ashley Reynolds Marshall.

Reynolds Marshall said the organization based the numbers on the months of March through October of each year, initially out of curiosity to see if there may be any correlation between instances of abuse and the pandemic.

“Those numbers as you know are very recent. We’re unsure about the reasons why.”

She said most of the time, victims are trafficked by someone they know.

“That can include if a guardian or a parent allows another adult to abuse that child, takes the child to that other adult’s house. That’s trafficking.”

Dr. Wendy Welch studies conspiracy theories and said disinformation can hurt local efforts to fight real abuse.

“It takes all the bandwidth. It is really hard to dislike a hashtag called ‘Save the Children.'”

She said that hashtag was stolen from a real organization fighting trafficking by a movement falsely believing that politicians and celebrities are behind child trafficking.

“There shouldn’t be a wall of fake facts between the actual needs of children and a bunch of Hollywood elites who are supposed to be hurting them. ‘Look over here. Look over here where the Hollywood people are,'” Dr. Welch said. “No, look next door. Look at your neighbor next door.”

Reynolds Marshall said to take notice if people close to you are behaving strangely or if their patterns change.

“If your spidey sense is up,” she said, “then I would rather, if it was me, someone care enough about me to maybe start asking some questions.”

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or the YWCA of Central Virginia at (888) 947-7273.

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