It seems on social media we are constantly seeing warnings about the dangers of human trafficking. While I hate to live my life in fear, I do think it’s good to be aware of our surroundings, and I personally appreciate when people share their experiences to give other parents a heads up. One Florida dad, Matthew Pilch, took to Facebook just two days ago to do just that after his family had a scary experience at a prominent Miami museum.
Pilch, who is in the military, says he doubts he’d even know about human trafficking if he hadn’t been forced to take classes about it in his military training. Now, he is certainly glad he did. In his Facebook post, which he entitled, “Close Call: Our Brush With Human Trafficking in Miami, FL – August 28, 2018,” Pilch details their frightening account. He says his military discount has been an impetus for his family to visit lots of museums in Florida, where they live, both close to and a few hours away from home. But at one museum in Miami, they had a much different kind of educational experience. He says:
“What we witnessed today was indeed out of the ordinary, and I was not simply being an overprotective dad. With several of the museums we have visited I took our camera to capture some of the moments and noticed lots of other parents, interested museum-goers, and tourists doing the same. None of the others visits or interactions gave cause for alarm until today…Keep in mind that this took place at a highly respected, state-of-the-art museum in downtown – right next to the Port of Miami. The admission to this museum is steep; it is well-staffed; and every exhibit is world-class.”
Pilch says the visit was going great until about two hours in, when he noticed a woman repeatedly getting close to their kids. He didn’t think much of it at first.
“I noticed a woman who at first seemed to be a little eccentric,” he said “She had her phone out and it looked at first glance like she had it on a video call or something and was shooting a selfie video with the exhibit in the background, just chatting away in Spanish. Weird, but whatever. It is Miami after all. The thing that first caught my attention was when my kids decided to lay on the ground to look up at the fish and this woman decided that she also would lay down on the ground, and somewhat close to my kids. That did strike me as odd, though it still didn’t set off any alarms. As we continued to enjoy the exhibit however, I started noticing that she was paying more attention to our children than she was to the fish. Whenever she noticed me looking her way she resumed chatting on her phone and holding it in front of her. Then, it seemed as if she was not videoing, but taking photos, and not of fish, but of our children! I couldn’t tell for sure. This was when I started to feel a little on edge.”
Pilch continued being cautious and keeping an eye on the woman, but his parental radar really went off when a man joined the woman and used his high-quality camera to obviously begin taking pictures of Pilch’s kids.
“It was unmistakable – he was taking pictures of our children with a good quality DSLR Nikon camera! That set off the alarm bells for me,” Pilch reported. He continues: “Before I could say anything to my wife, he had snapped another picture of one of our other children, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I was watching. I quickly informed my wife that we needed to leave and right away. Freaky? Yes. Reportable? I was still on the fence. I just wanted to leave. Maybe they were just weird tourists who thought our kids were beautiful. Hey! I think they’re pretty good-looking; they do take after their mother after all!”
Unsure of whether or not to report the duo, Pilch and his family moved to another part of the museum. Soon after, the strange duo followed. Pilch says what happened next to really get him worried about human trafficking.
“We had found a very kid-friendly activity involving kinetic sand and our children loved it, as did a number of other children in the area. They had been playing for only a couple of minutes when this woman came right up to that particular area in the room and started playing in the sand box with the children, smiling and laughing with them. Then, she took out her phone and started taking pictures again – not of the exhibit, but of the children. My children and other people’s children. It was too much. We had been followed and their behavior was way beyond the ordinary, and it fit the profile of a human trafficking team: usually a man and a woman; tries to relate well and interact with children; takes pictures; tries to get the children to interact with them and feel comfortable. I had to report it.”
Pilch reported the duo to museum staff, who he says took it quite seriously. “The head of security was all over it instantly,” he says. “As soon as I related all the signs to him he immediately agreed that it was suspect and bore the telltale signs of trafficking. I was able to point out both the woman and the man to them, who were beating a hasty retreat when they saw me talking with security and museum management. Security went after them and we never saw them anywhere else in the museum for the rest of the day.”
Pilch wants parents to know that human traffickers are sneaky and will even take the opportunity to find victims in an expensive, upscale museum like the one they were in. “After all, if they came in and were able to find just one child to kidnap and sell into slavery or the sex trade, that would fetch far above the price of admission for the day,” he says.
After he got home, he found a couple of photos that he’d taken that captured the woman in question’s odd behavior. He urges parents to look at these photos, read his article, and do their own research to know the signs of suspicious behavior!
“One can see clearly where her focus is and her demeanor,” he says of the photographs. “She is looking straight at our children, not at her phone or the exhibit, and giving them a huge, inviting smile. I can’t imagine the horror of missing one of my children right now. Instead I am blessed to be able to hug each of my children tonight and kiss them and tell them I love them. If you have never heard of human trafficking, it’s time to get educated so that hopefully you and your friends can also hug and kiss your own children each night.”
Parents, this danger may not be super common, but it IS super real. Educate yourself about human trafficking so you know the signs!