*Mentions of child abuse, conspiracy theories, and childhood trauma.*
As the pandemic rips its way through the US, riddled with protests against police brutality and systemic racism, we have seen how passionate the people are about the social issues that they believe in. I applaud the bravery and fortitude of protestors demanding justice for victims of systemic and racial violence, and I support the change they desperately need to build a better future for their children. For all our children.
But I’ve also seen, and experienced, a disturbing trend.
For a while now, on social media, there’s been an uptick of rumors and conspiracy theories involving child abuse. Some of these are based on court documentation and actual evidence, and others just seem to be new versions of older conspiracy theories with little factual evidence that people are too emotionally invested in to be able to let go of.
We know that Jeffrey Epstein, the Roman Catholic Church, several politicians, schools, and many more people/organizations have had actual, factual accusations made against them concerning child abuse, and they have all resulted in different consequences. Many of them are still ongoing.
And while I could rail about how no one seems to be taking the Catholic Church to task for its literal decades (if not centuries) of child abuse and cover ups, we can all at least agree we know about them. And though I’m not shocked that an organization with so much power and money is not being actively held accountable for all the harm it’s actively doing to our children, I can still be angry that people prefer to cling to things like Pizzagate and Wayfairgate with real obsession.
These conspiracy theories are so attractive that you cannot have real conversations with people who believe in them. I am a survivor of abuse. I experienced what it was like going through the underground. I know what it’s like firsthand, and what it’s NOT like. As a teen and an adult I worked as an advocate for abuse victims. I can safely say that the common household does not have access to the address to the headquarters to a child trafficking ring on Google.
I was kidnapped because of the satanic cult hysteria of the 80s. Something no one could ever factually prove was really a thing. And while we were on the run, living in fear of the evil satanists, I literally went to a Catholic school where the priest ended up raping multiple 12 year old girls while I was in attendance there.
My grandparents were still more afraid of the idea they’d made up in their minds of devil worshippers than of the actual literal predator who had been the head of my school because he was a priest. I stayed on in that school until we moved to another city, again being put into another Catholic school that went on to have another child abuse scandal. Thankfully, I never had to endure the horror of being victimized by a religious leader, and my experience with the church was lukewarm at best. But that just makes me lucky in the worst sort of lottery you can put a child through. And the adults in my life that had forcibly taken responsibility for my safety thought this was an acceptable risk to take.
As such, I’m not necessarily shocked that people are attracted to these irrational theories. But I am still deeply disturbed when I see someone ignore common sense and cling to dangerous ideas that do not keep anyone safe.
People want the devil to be real. They want to be shocked. They want to be offended. They want the boring things that you are saying will protect their family to be complete crap. Because we enjoy the hysteria of being offended and terrified of something.
As a society we have a fascination for scandal and routinely use real life horror and suffering as a venue for entertainment. From biographies, documentaries, and podcasts, lots of us (including myself) ingest true crime and mysteries with fervor. It doesn’t take a hard look at social media to see how much people often romanticize these real life occurrences. We are so inundated with information that it’s very easy to separate the reality of human suffering from the entertainment it’s presented as. It’s been sanitized through the scope of thrill, and in the long run that might be a dangerous thing for some people who have a hard time understanding it.
Taken too far, people who can’t think critically, may begin to believe extraordinary theories, deliberate disinformation, and then commit tragic acts bolstered by their online communities and conspiracy theorists they may follow, such as QANon. One man shot up a pizza place because he believed they were holding kidnapped children. Another man shot and killed a crime boss because he believed ‘Q’ sent him messages to do so through obscure online text, and showed up to court with the letter Q written on the palms of his hands to show his loyalty to the figure.
At one point the Polaris Project, a national project that fights human trafficking, had to ask people to stop calling them about Wayfair trafficking children because it was overwhelming them and they couldn’t actually get any real work done.
“While Polaris treats all calls to the Trafficking Hotline seriously, the extreme volume of these contacts has made it more difficult for the Trafficking Hotline to provide support and attention to others who are in need of help,” the group said in a July 20 press release. “We strongly encourage everyone to learn more about what human trafficking really looks like in most situations, and about how you can help fight trafficking in your own community.”
As much as I may admire the initiative of someone who wants to report what they know about a trafficked child, this is not helpful behavior. None of these people knew anything about a specific child, they were all just parroting the same conspiracy theory they had read about online. It actually blocks people from doing the real work that keep kids safe, and saves kids from being exploited. If you can’t tell, I find this highly frustrating.
At one point I did state an opinion online about this whole conspiracy debacle and how I find it incredibly offensive as a survivor. The rain of complete hate vomit that met my comment was swift, and it was unforgiving. I was accused of everything from helping traffickers steal children, to personally being abusive to children because I didn’t believe a stolen child was being placed inside a cabinet and then sold online to anyone who wanted it, so their organs could be harvested by Tom Hanks and Whoopi Goldberg.
Just writing that sentence gave me a migraine.
I don’t want anyone to go through what I did. I don’t want anyone to go through worse than I did. What happened to me happened because the adults in my life didn’t take responsibility for how they parented me, and that left me vulnerable. And then my grandparents forcibly took control of my care because of hysteria laden concern, giving little critical thought to the eventual danger they would willingly place me in. I fell through the cracks, in the 80s, in Florida.
I want us to do better than the 80s in Florida. I want people to realize they actually have the ability to make choices in the real world that not only affect themselves, but affect their neighbors. I want you to understand that you can actually make a difference by learning the real information and using it accordingly.
YOU CAN HELP PEOPLE.
But first you need to help yourself. Hysteria helps no one. Concerted effort and legitimate education does. We can end this nightmare for so many kids. But we can only do that when everyone works accordingly. Conspiracy theories work against the facts and hinder the help a child can receive.
Please don’t be the one who made it impossible to save a child because you needed the conspiracy theory more than that child needed their life.
Please check out these sources for REAL information on child trafficking and abuse.