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 Sex 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 all under the age of eight.
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 back at 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, heavy set man with a wide face. He was alone. 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 then made the transition from the exterior pavilion into the waiting area, where it was nearly our turn to meet the sisters. We couldn’t even see the sisters yet, but our girls were giddy with excitement!
This time the man didn’t hold back and he moved right along with our group. And he was still alone, which meant he wasn’t waiting for anyone else to join him.
This meant he was waiting for us.
Targeted For Child Trafficking
During this whole time he talked to us incessantly. He asked about our children. He asked where we were from and how long we were staying. He asked the names and ages of our kids. He asked us such personal and inappropriate probing questions.
We all began to feel very uncomfortable.
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.
He attempted direct interaction with our children.
Gabriel and his cousin stepped ahead of our children to place a physical barrier between him and their innocence. The child predator wasn’t dissuaded in the least.
Then, the tipping point materialized. He asked us to pretend he was their grandpa.
My stomach dropped. 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 shared that he felt exactly the same.
My husband did not hide to anyone in the room that he was on guard.
Behavior of a Child Trafficker
While he grilled us with questions, he also kept a keen eye on the family currently visiting with Elsa and Anna.
His phone, which he kept out at all times, was still set on the camera mode. All of a sudden and out of nowhere, 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 by herself.
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.
We confronted him.
Confronting a Child Trafficker
He denied taking the photos. We demanded that he provide his phone and show the other parents the photos he had taken. He refused.
He stood there glibly insisting that we stop questioning him and take our turn visiting Elsa and Anna. As if we could simply move on with our day at Disneyland.
The sisters were frozen, and not figuratively this time. The Disney castmembers who were escorting the princesses didn’t know what to do. They were paralyzed.The family ahead of us were frightened and stunned.
We told him it was his turn, but he boldly announced he had no intention of visiting Elsa and Anna. He pushed us to go ahead of him, bowing his head in both mocking and menacing supplication. He held up his hand showing us the way to proceed and ushering us to go ahead.
He said he would wait off to the side.
He was relentless.
Why did he need to be in the pavilion if he had zero intention of ever greeting Elsa and Anna?
Protecting Our Children
We mothers stood in front of our children, immovable. 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.
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.
Finally we called for security, albeit probably too late. 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 near the families and children until they receive a yes or no.
If they receive a yes, they look for an opening to take the kids if they are chosen.
Had this man already taken photos of our children and received a yes?
Who is Targeted?
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.
The Reality of Child Trafficking
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 any way. 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.
$559 million of that going to teacher turned professional child pedophile rapist Jeffrey Epstein.
Where Else Can Children be Targeted for Child Trafficking?
Recently, a woman in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport tried to grab two children from their parents in the busiest airport in the world and disappear into the crowds.
This along with the news that Japan Airlines has introduced a new child icon to their seating map, alerting every known child predator, child trafficker and sex offender where children are sitting on their flight.
Children are trafficked everywhere, from inside an airplane to the happiest place on Earth.
Tips for Protecting 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.
Our Family Safety Rules
No matter where we are we follow three rules with our children that are non-negotiable.
- Our children are always required to have a buddy. No matter how old they get they have to stay together in pairs.
- If for some reason they do get separated they stop where they are, and stay put. Never leave with a stranger. If a person approaches them and offers to help, even if they are in uniform, even if they are another Mom with kids, even if they seem really nice, they never leave with a stranger. Instead, they can ask that person to wait with them until Mom and Dad find them, but never, ever leave with them.
- Of course if someone tries to take them, they scream bloody murder and never stop screaming no matter what.
Also, check out these items for additional safety measures against this threat available for purchase on Amazon.
This is, indeed, terrifying. I am appalled that the cast didn’t know to call security immediately.
That was really shocking to us as well. Everyone was just kind of frozen, especially the poor family who went before us when they found out what happened.
Bloody hell. I usually dont read blogs to do with Disney but the title of the pin which lead me here told me to read this! I recently became a father for the first time and I was gobsmacked at what I was reading here and to learn of your experience. Its a shame this is happening in places like Disney and now because of this, when I take my daughter to places like Disney when she is older, I will be on my guard. Its a shame this is happening but thank you for highlighting this issue.
When I was looking through the infographs to include in the post one of the really terrifying aspects I noticed was the shift that has occured in the reasons for trafficking. 10 years ago the majority of people trafficked were for forced labor. Now, the majority of people trafficked are for sex. We have a lot of personal guidelines we follow like not posting our kids real names, not posting naked pictures online, and when we are traveling we always make sure that as parents we are aware of which child we are currently in charge of. That way we have a singular focus.
How scary! I would not have thought child trafficking would happen somewhere like Disneyland. I’ve only ever had positive travel experiences but listening to your gut instinct is so important and has helped me in a few situations. I hope this article saves at least one child 🙂
We’ve been traveling with our kids since they were born – it’s been nearly a decade. This really was a singular experience, and we’ve always had wonderful adventures! But, this could have ended so differently. I don’t think people should be afraid to travel, but I also think we can’t be naive to the reality of what could happen!
Always trust your instincts. I’m glad you spoke up. I wish Disney had taken this as a serious complaint.
Wow, this is absolutely horrible to think of but necessary for parents to recognize. Thank you for sharing…
We have to be vigilant! For our children, and our community!
Wow! Even though I knew this could happen, I guess I didn’t want to believe it. My family and I are going on a vacation soon and I will be on the look out. Thank you for sharing this!
I felt the same way until it happened. I think that’s how we become aware of most things, which is why I felt it was important to share. We can’t wait until it’s too late!
Its happening everywhere but it makes sense traffickers will target any spot that is filled with children and large crowds.
The first three words in your comment – just horrifying! It’s one of the reasons we recently moved and bought an acre of land that backs up to a mountain. I want our children to have a childhood and be able to free range!
This is so scary! I read the other day about how predators are using Instagram to target kids because all the parents are posting back-to-school pictures. It’s a sad thing to even have to worry about!
I have a hard time with instagram. We didn’t join it for a long time because the very concept of a platform based on photos seems very concerning to me. Snapchat is even worse!
I am so thankful this hasn’t happened to me with my son, but I’m always on guard because you just never know what could happen. It saddens me to know that children go through this and I would be heartbroken if it happened to my child.
All I can do is be thankful that we prevented something worse! But I am so scared for all children when things like this are rampant!
This is so terrifying, I was sick to my stomach reading about what you went through with your children. Always trust your instincts!
Better to be wrong and offend someone, than have something terrible happen!
After reading this post it scared me a lot. Bad people are always around and they are going to do their motive once they have a chance. I hope Disney will do something about it and take this in a serious manner.
This was a year ago or so, so hopefully they have put in new measures!
That’s so scary! Honestly I never thought that there could be something happening like that, especially at Disneyland. Your article is very helpful. Thanks for raising awareness!
This makes me really sad and scared. We are Floridians and visit Disney often and never would have guessed this was happening at the happiest place on Earth. Thank you for the awareness.
Yes, we visit Disney all the time too! It definitely brings a new dimension into taking precautions with our kids at theme parks.
that is so sad and so scary. Its so sad that even at places like Disneyland we cannot let our guard down, but we must never do so. we must always protect our kiddos. thank you for sharing this and all the statistics.
Very well put. We can never let our guard down!
This is terrifying to say the least, but only knowledge can empower us to keep our loved ones safe. This must have been a difficult write but thanks for sharing this. I am positive this is going to help loads of people.
Oh my goodness, this is so scary! Even at Disneyland, there will be these issues – we can never feel too comfortable or safe. We must always be on the lookout and reporting what we see is how we can help others. I’m glad my mom has taught me to stay safe.
Yes, I hope we will all watch out not only for our children but for the safety of others who might not be aware!
Thank you for posting this. The exact same questions were asked of us at Epcot this past Feb by a man who was by himself. We contacted WDW staff and watched him as he smirked at me and my family. The lengths we went through the past months and a half to protect our family and try to get our life back have been exhausting, mainly mentally.
Not enough RAD classes are available to younger women and they should be. Our daughter’s HS (oldest of our 3) is now offering it and we also took one at a friend’s gym recently.
Please don’t be a target. No names on clothes. No names on your strollers. Don’t put resort info on things. Don’t even wear your resort shirts!
You can wear matching shirts, but leave names off. Matching clothes helps in case one child may walk away since you can say “they are dressed exactly like”.
Be safe everyone. Be alert. Be strong.
Thank you so much for your comments, and we are so regretful and sad to hear this has happened to you as well. It’s one of the scariest situations we’ve ever found ourselves in! We absolutely agree to the suggestions regarding not placing your names on personal belongings. It’s also one of the reasons we don’t use our children’s real names on this website. Best wishes to you and yours.
Disney Corp. is DARK. Don’t be fooled by illusion.
I was shocked to hear that a man would just come up to a family like that intrusively. It reminds me of the time her amd her dad were at Walmart amd a man was doing anything he could to get in between them bu the checkout. She has been followed too. This stuff is happening everywhere and I cant believe in places like hotels when kids are bloody and bruised that no one calls the police. We need to be aware of our surroundings.Just completely shocking to me..
Thank you for your comments! We absolutely agree! We always have to be aware! Last night we were on the subway in Seoul and a man came up to my son and gave him $50 (equivalent USD). It was so inappropriate and made my stomach churn. He was drunk and we insisted he take it back, but he wouldn’t have it and got off the train. We spent a long time explaining to our kids that you do not take money from people without an exchange and that is very unsafe in most of the world and in most circumstances.
we were at Disney world. We were struggling with a teenage daughter who was acting out. We watched some pink flamingos, my daughter was alone watching them. This man came over and he seemed to be watching the flamingos. Then he started talking to my girl. Suddenly he was leaning into her and she was backing away. So I went over and asked her if she was ok. She was still mad at me but appeared relieved. The guy left but she denied anything but that he was very weird. I was very upset and was overly paranoid the rest of our trip. I will always remember this…
Thank goodness you were able to intercept! This story is so chilling, I’m sorry it happened to your family!
this is ABSOLUTELY beyond horrifying but SO EXTREMELY necessary to warn people about as alot of people would be thinking about all the fun they are about to have and not really be thinking of there children potentially being sex trafficked at Disneyland. It scares me so much thinking that that creepy man and others like him are out there and I feel SOOO sad for all there victims and hope they can escape and that the evil sex traffickers get caught and thrown in prison! This story gave me the chills in the worst way 🙁 I am SOOO sorry that this happened to you but thank you SOOO much for warning others of this it could REALLY help in preventing a horrifying tragedy!
Thank you for spreading awareness too!
why would you ever take children there again after that?
I thank you SO MUCH for sharing this. Sorry it happened to you, but also glad you got away from a potentially HUGE problem. I thank God for your good sense and the ideas you shared. I pray it helps others to also avoid becoming victims. Thank you too for mentioning Tim Ballard and his group. I’ve heard of him and pray for him every day, as well as those his group has been able to rescue.
Thank you for your comments and your efforts!
Comments are closed.