Justice

Why You Should Be Skeptical of This Woman's Viral Post on Trafficking

Last Thursday, 19-year-old Ashley Hardacre of Flint, Michigan, walked to her car after finishing work at the Genesee Valley Mall. What she then found was so unnerving that her subsequent Facebook post about it went viral.

 

 

Hardacre found a blue flannel shirt wrapped so tightly around her windshield wiper that she would have had to work to remove it. Not only that, but she noticed a running car running nearby.

Was there someone inside waiting for her to be distracted by unraveling the shirt so they could carjack or kidnap her? Having heard other stories of women finding things attached to their windshield wipers by traffickers, Hardacre wasn't taking any chances. 

“Luckily, I knew better than to remove the shirt with cars around me," she wrote, "so I drove over to a place where I was safe and quickly rolled down my window and got the shirt off.”

Ashley Hardacre

She was later contacted by a Flint Township Police Department officer who saw her post about the incident. That officer, Sergeant Brad Wangler, told CBS: “Nothing like this has ever happened before. There have been no other incidences like this. It’s kind of unknown as to what or why or who [did it]."

Was the shirt tied to the wiper part of a new method of luring women into letting their guard down and being taken? Or was it a garden variety prank?

According to myth-busting site Snopes, many of the reports about this incident conflated it with a real sex trafficking story, one that had nothing to do with anything tied to a windshield.

While ATTN: couldn't find any other publicized incident of a shirt being tied to a windshield wiper as a lure, stories about other random items stuck onto windshields of cars in big, empty parking lots are a fairly common element of trafficking-related urban legends.

Far from giving women useful tools to avoid kidnapping, these stories serve only to needlessly scare people while obscuring the real causes of sex trafficking.

The most widely-covered such incident was like that of a Kay Jewelers ring allegedly left on the windshield of a car in Appleton, Wisconsin. The daughter of the woman who received it posted on Facebook that her mother found the ring after another car attempted to box her in, claiming "this is exactly how human trafficking and abductions take place."

Free Ring

But local police later released a statement saying there was no evidence the ring was related to sex trafficking. The post was later deleted, and no other instances of rings left on windshields have been reported.

Myth-busting site Snopes lists a number of evidence-free kidnapping scare stories, among then:

  • purported abductions from public parks in Minnesota and Louisiana
  • a woman claiming she was nearly taken from a hobby store in Oklahoma
  • fake job interviews set up to lure victims
  • a girl being drugged and nearly kidnapped at a Texas department store
  • a slew of near-miss kidnappings from Target and Wal-Mart parking lots around the country
  • perfume samples laced with knockout substances

Snopes has found every single one of these claims to be unproven. Many were likely misunderstandings from people who have read too many viral scare stories. Others appear to simply have been made up.

According to the International Human Trafficking Institute, viral Facebook posts instill fear, unnecessarily panic local populations, wrongly portray random middle-age white women as the most vulnerable to trafficking, and distort the truth of how human traffickers actually find victims.

"Kidnapping victims is risky for traffickers," the group says in a post that dispels some common myths about trafficking. "Instead, human traffickers are far more likely to lure individuals into a coercive scheme by building a relationship with and/or promising something to them. When individuals come willingly – at least at first – there’s less risk for the trafficker."

Flint Township Sergeant Brad Wangler didn't immediately return a request for comment from ATTN:. As of now, it's not clear who put the shirt on Ashley Hardacre's car, or why.