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Fact check: False claim tainted ice cream used to disorient human trafficking targets

Editor’s note: for a collection of other “Human Trafficking Fact Checks,” click here.

The claim: Tainted ice cream is being used to disorient targets of human traffickers

A post claims human traffickers have an unusual way to disorient potential victims: placing tainted ice cream on parts of a car to get a target to touch them.

One poster claims to have found tainted ice cream on her daughter’s car in the parking lot of a restaurant. The restaurant she names and the mall she says it is next to match a restaurant in suburban Baltimore County, Maryland. 

“The idiot that placed those ice creams there wanted her to touch them which (sic) highly likely there was some type of substance that would make her dizzy and confused just enough to abduct her,” the Nov. 6 Facebook post reads in part.

The post, which has been shared more than 1,000 times, includes photos of a car with what appear to be a packaged ice cream sandwich on top of a tire and a door handle. The social media user also said she asked a police officer about the ice cream and learned it was “a setup for possible .”

But there is no evidence tainted ice cream is being used to disorient human trafficking targets. Local police said there was no such incident reported at that location. A spokesperson for a national organization fighting human trafficking said such a claim is similar to many debunked rumors. And experts have previously told USA TODAY that human trafficking rarely involves abduction by strangers, instead occurring through people known to the victims.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the claim for comment.

No proof of tainted ice cream

Baltimore County Police, who have jurisdiction in the suburb where the incident purportedly happened, said they have no record of the incident described in the post.

“We were not able to find a police report that was filed,” department spokesperson Joy Lepola-Stewart said in an email. “We have not been able to verify the statements posted on social media.”

The claim echoes other social media posts USA TODAY has debunked about how sex traffickers operate. Previous claims described vehicles marked or blocked in the parking lot of a Pennsylvania Wal-Mart, an attempt to incapacitate a driver near Dearborn, Michigan, and a claim that men sprayed sedatives in the air at a Kentucky Walmart. All were unfounded.

, an organization that fights sex and and has operated the National Human Trafficking Hotline for 15 years, has a web page for debunking social media rumors about trafficking. Ayan Ahmed, a spokesperson for Polaris, was unaware of anyone making the tainted ice cream claim but said it fit with other baseless claims of seemingly innocuous, but drug-laced, objects.

Alicia Peters, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of New England, previously told USA TODAY that the common belief that trafficking starts with an abduction by a stranger is not based in reality.

It’s much more common for a person to be trafficked by someone with whom they have an existing relationship – such as a romantic partner – than a stranger who abducts them, she said.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that tainted ice cream is being used to disorient targets of human traffickers. Suburban Baltimore police said no reports have been filed matching the incident described in the claim, and experts have told USA TODAY such an approach to abducting someone is unlikely.

Our fact-check sources:

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

 

EYES ON TRAFFICKING

This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original location.

ABOUT

PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.

 

EYES ON TRAFFICKING

This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original online location.

ABOUT PBJ LEARNING

PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on awareness and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials online course is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.