Human trafficking has become worldwide, the numbers of victims that have fallen prey of this evil crime are very high. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally.
Diandra Toyos, a mother based in Southern California recently evaded Juan traffickers during a shopping trip to IKEA when the unexpected happened. As she and her family walked through the huge store, she got a “gut feeling” that something was not right. She noticed a man watching them closely while her kids happily tested out couches.
That’s when it hit her that probably her children could be targets for human trafficking. The terrified mom posted a photo on Facebook of herself and her children doing couch shopping, which was taken before she saw the stranger watching them.
She put a caption that read,
“I recently read a post written by a mother I didn’t know, that went viral. She described an event that happened to her while she was at Target. She and her children were targeted by human traffickers. She talked about how when she reported the incident after the fact, she was told that this was a very common way they worked.”
She further stated that she used to read about such stories and always thought that sorting as scary as that could never happen to her.
She said that she had recently gone IKEA with her mother and her three children aged 7, 4 and 1.5 years. They had specifically gone to have a look at couches. It was then, that she noticed a middle-aged man watching them closely. At one point this stranger came closer to them, but she quickly came between him and her son. This man continued to circle the area, staring at her kids.
He also occasionally picked something up and pretended to look at it, yet in an actual sense, he was looking right over at Diandra and her family.
Her mother also noticed this strange man and cautioned them to be careful and keep their eyes on him. Shockingly, whenever they took a step, he followed them. Her son wandered into one of the little display rooms across from the couches and she followed him closely with her baby strapped to her body. Her mother continued watching the stranger who had stopped what he was doing and was now headed to the same direction Diandra and her children had taken.
She also noticed a second man walking in circles too, he was dressed nor casually and seemed to be in his 20s. They decide to sit down for almost 30 minutes in one of the little display rooms and wait for them to move on’ but they did not.
They sat down on one of the couches on the display floor that faced them. At that point, Diandra and her mom realized something was really wrong so they got up and left. They later noticed the strange men were sitting not so far away from each other, still facing the same direction and the older man was still watching them.
Her mother made eye contact with them as a way of warning them that she had seen them. However, they later lost them, talked to one of the employees of IKEA who help them exit through the bathroom to a different section of the building. They had the children with them the whole time. Diandra kept her baby in a sling, leaving her hands and eyes free to look out for the dangerous men.
Finally, they managed to tinker it out of the building and immediately reported to security what they had seen. Diandra said that she learned the following from this terrifying experience.
1. These men weren’t shopping. While they walked around the store, they weren’t looking at a thing. The older man would occasionally pick something up and act like he was looking at it, but he would look right over the top of it at her children. Then he would drop it and move on as soon as we did.
2. She reveals that she had no doubt in her mind that they weren’t waiting for anyone. Usually the men who are seen in IKEA, 90% of them are waiting are their wives, however, these men, on the other hand, seemed to be alone.
3. They neither talked to each other nor smiled at anyone. Diandra found this behavior so strange. She explains that she had smiled at the older man just like she always does when she meets strangers, but to her surprise, he ignored her and quickly looked away. She also noticed that they were dressed so nicely but very differently.
4. The area they were hanging around had an exit right by it. IKEA is a massive confusing maze of a store. But they could have run out that exit with her children and handed them off to someone waiting outside and been gone before she could find them.
Diandra cautions parents to always be alert especially when out with their children and concentrate on watching them instead of passing time on phones.
She says, “When you’re in a public place with your kids, please be aware and present so that you don’t become a victim.” She insists that parents should follow their instincts when faced with such a situation. In a world full of distractions, especially phones, it’s very easy for a family to become a target of human trafficking.
Thankfully, Diandra was aware of her surroundings and trusted her “motherly instincts,” and left the IKEA safely with her beloved family. As any mother knows, protecting your child is a beautiful responsibility. The innocence and joy in a child’s eyes are unmatched.Diandra shared her story with the world so that other families will know what signs to look for so they can keep their beloved families safe as well.