As excited as we were about seeing Elsa and Anna, we couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong. Standing in line was a large, single, heavy set man with thick, dark rimmed glasses, brown hair and a fishing hat that blocked most of his face. He was fidgeting and kept his phone upright at all times. He nervously kept looking around while ushering everyone to skip the line ahead of him, until he was right next to us. Were we being targeted by child trafficking?
Are Your Kids Being Targeted for
Child Trafficking at Disneyland?
My mom frequently asks me if the places we are traveling to are “safe”. Aren’t you worried about taking your children all over the world, she’ll ask? It’s a legitimate question, but the reality we’ve come to learn is that the answer is no different than it is at home.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a situation that happened to our family at Disneyland not even two years ago.
When Gabriel worked for Disney one of our favorite things to do would be to use my flight benefits to take a day trip to Disneyland. I would frequently wake the kids up early to take a one hour flight to California, spend the day at Disneyland riding our favorite rides and eating our favorite treats, and then fly home the same night. Life isn’t the same without those benefits.
Of course we took longer trips too. We would spend the weekend as a family and play in the Disneyland Hotel pool, or eat three Earl’s of Sandwich in one binge sitting. We have a lot of favorite memories playing in California at Disneyland and we never once worried about whether or not Disneyland was a safe destination.
Are your Kids Safe Visiting Disneyland?
During this time, Gabriel’s cousin also worked at Disney, and one weekend we all decided to go together as a big group. There were 10 of us total. Two adults and three children per family. Of those six kids, five of the children were girls. Naturally, seeing Elsa and Anna was absolutely non-negotiable. We got fast passes in the morning and were in line inside the Disney Animation building promptly when it was our turn.
The line began outside in the pavilion. The same pavilion that houses the Animation Courtyard, the Sorcerer’s Workshop and Turtle Talk with Crush. Since Disney has streamlined this process to include fast passes, the line moves quickly. We chatted with each other to pass the time and our kids ran back and forth around the pavilion in their excitement.
We couldn’t help but notice one man in particular that wasn’t really holding his place in the line, but was instead moving back and forth in-between those us of us waiting and chit chatting about seeing Elsa and Anna.
At first, he came off as a Disney Super Fan. We all know the type. We thought that he was keeping a placeholder for his family who were coming up any moment to meet the sisters. He allowed family after family to move ahead of the line and greet the sisters while he shifted just one place in line behind them. It seemed harmless enough. Who hasn’t done this? Mom and the kids are on a ride that broke down, and they are hurrying fast to come meet Dad for the fastpasses at the next attraction. With so much to see and do at Disney, you have to be strategic.
Spotting A Child Trafficker
Then he approached us. He was a bit awkward and nervously kept looking around. I will never forget what he looked like. His image is burned into my memory. He was a large, single, heavy set man with a wide face. He had pudgy cheeks. He wore thick, dark rimmed glasses with lenses that were so thick he nearly appeared blind. His brown hair came down past his ears and splayed out under a fishing hat that blocked most of his face.
He was fidgeting and one of his more suspicious mannerisms was the way he held his phone. He kept his phone upright at all times. Not just in his hand, or down by his side, but he held it away from his body ready to command it. His screen was set on camera mode, and it never went dark.
We transitioned from the pavilion to the waiting area where it was nearly our turn to meet the sisters.
During this whole time he talked to us incessantly. He asked about our children. Where we were from. How long we were staying. The names and ages of our kids. We all began to feel very uncomfortable. Then, the tipping point materialized. He asked us to pretend he was their grandpa.
A feeling of despair swelled within me. The repulsion I felt was instinctive. I could not ignore my intuition that something was very, very, very wrong. The look on my husband’s face did not hide that he was on guard.
No, we did not answer his questions. We even went so far as to tell him his questions were inappropriate and unnecessary even in the context of typical friendly conversation. Yet, he continued to prod us, and directly ask our children questions and attempt direct interaction with them. Gabriel and his cousin stepped ahead of our children to place a physical barrier between him and their innocence. He wasn’t dissuaded in the least.
Behavior of a Child Trafficker
While he grilled us with questions, he kept a keen eye on the family currently visiting with the sisters. His phone, which he kept out at all times, was still set on the camera mode. He suddenly raised it and we could clearly and unmistakably see him take picture after picture after picture of the young daughter posing face forward with Elsa and Anna.
There are no words to describe the fury that rose in my chest and threatened to seize my lungs with its hot and impassioned grip. Gabriel and his cousin stepped in without hesitation and confronted the man. This happened. There was no mistaking it and there was no denying it.
An older, middle aged man – a stranger – lurked at Disneyland taking pictures of small children unbeknownst to them, or their parents for his own shameful purposes. We would not let it go. Not for their daughter, or the families who had gone ahead, and certainly not for our children.
Confronting a Child Trafficker
He denied taking the photos,… but then, he still didn’t want to take his turn. He pushed us to go ahead of him, nearly bowing his head in menacing supplication, while he held up his hand showing us the way to proceed. He would wait off to the side. He was relentless.
We mothers stood in front of our children, motionless. A physical barrier. He would not have access. He would not lie wait in the shadows. A potential child trafficker, or pedophile, was targeting our children.
Why did he need to be in the pavilion if he had zero intention of ever greeting Elsa and Anna? The Disney castmembers who were escorting the princesses didn’t know what to do. They were paralyzed.
Gabriel asked him to leave. He outright refused. Again, he made a controlling motion with his hands and arms for us to go ahead and visit Elsa and Anna. He dared to tell us that he’d just put away his phone while it was our turn to visit. His intentions were clear. Whether or not this was a person nefariously looking to child traffick, this man had no business being anywhere near our family.
Albeit probably too late, we called for security. He immediately fled.
We gave statements, and described the man to Disney security. They said they would take action, but we have no idea what happened after that. Despite being on the lookout, we never saw him again.
What is Child Trafficking?
So, what exactly did we encounter? We found out afterwards this is a very popular tactic among child traffickers in crowded tourist locations. One person is tasked with following children around. They will take photos and send them to clients looking to traffick the kids. The person will send text messages of the photos and stay with the families and children until they receive a yes or no. Then they look for an opening to take the kids if they are chosen.
It’s far more common for child traffickers to target children who are alone, or who are given a little more independence. Victims of child trafficking are typically left in vulnerable positions where they need help, or are in positions where they are forced to trust in a stranger. This is in part what made this scenario so chilling. We, the parents, were right there to witness his actions. He didn’t try to hide what he was doing, or even be discreet about it. He even tried to intimidate us when he was confronted.
It still makes my heart race and my blood boil to think about it. There is a certain fear that never escapes me when I recount this story.
We live in a beautiful world, full of kind and caring individuals that will go to the ends of the earth to help others. We have never before or since felt threatened in anyway. We have traveled to five out of seven continents on this planet. We have spent time in rural China, and in Tokyo, the most populated city in the world. We have been all over Europe, Mexico, Central and South America and Australia. We have felt the love and gracious compassion of countless individuals and shared that love in return.
On the flip side there are evil people and diabolical schemes that invisibly surround us. We don’t have to travel to far off destinations in foreign countries where we don’t speak the language to encounter child trafficking. We confronted this very scary situation, in California on the West Coast of the United States, at the Happiest Place on Earth. Would you be surprised to know child trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the United States of America? And this industry, if you have the nerve to call it that, creates $32 billion dollars annually.
How to Protect Your Children Against Child Trafficking?
So how do we keep our children safe? These Disney castmembers clearly had not been trained to handle a situation that is amassing in strength and power both here at home, and abroad. When it comes to the safety of our children, the task cannot be left to anyone else.
Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, is an expert. He left the CIA to hunt down traffickers across the globe. He is a powerful force that has dedicated his life to stopping child trafficking. We strongly recommend checking out his video regarding 4 tips to keep your children safe.