Lexi Johanson, left, holds signs with Jesse Babcock during a protest at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. | Yukai Peng, Deseret News
A look inside the #SaveOurChildren campaign and the realities of child sex trafficking in the U.S.
SALT LAKE CITY — On a sweltering day in early September, about 15 people stood outside the Utah state Capitol with signs covered in red handprints that said, “#SaveOurChildren” and “End Child Trafficking.” Every few minutes, a car driving by the small-scale protest honked in support.
#SaveOurChildren is a social media movement that has gained traction this year across platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Marches have been organized in cities all over the country, from Spokane, Washington, to Reed City, Michigan. While many well-meaning individuals with genuine concern have jumped in to support the movement, anti-child trafficking advocates warn that #SaveOurChildren is not what it seems.
The International Labor Organization estimates that there were over a million childhood victims of commercial sex exploitation in 2016. But instead of raising awareness about the realities of child trafficking, the Salt Lake City group promoted a number of unfounded allegations and false claims. They alleged that Hillary Clinton and her circle of friends are involved in child trafficking for the purposes of pedophilia and satanic human sacrifice, and that the FBI is complicit.
“I’ve done so much research,” the protest organizer said.
“Don’t trust the mainstream media,” another participant chimed in.
While many organizers, including those in Salt Lake City, say they are not affiliated with QAnon, an online conspiracy theory network, versions of the hashtag have been used in QAnon-related social media posts since 2017, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
In a town hall in Miami Thursday, the NBC moderator asked president Donald Trump if he would denounce QAnon, describing it as a “theory that Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring.”
Trump responded saying, “I know nothing about QAnon.” He added, “What I do hear about it is they are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that.”
The next day, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted, “The president’s unwillingness to denounce an absurd and dangerous conspiracy theory last night continues an alarming pattern.”
Travis View, one of the hosts of a podcast called “QAnon Anonymous,” said the fact that people are spreading the #SaveOurChildren message without being aware of its QAnon origins is a new phenomenon.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News
Rebecca Ellis, 8, holds a sign during a protest at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.
The hashtag has largely been used to spread misinformation that could distract from the real problem and make it harder for members of the public to identify actual victims of child trafficking, said Sarah Bendtsen, policy counsel for Shared Hope International, which is based in Vancouver, Washington, and strives to end child sex trafficking. She only learned about #SaveOurChildren a couple months …read more
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