If you really want to #SaveTheChildren, stop sharing QAnon conspiracy theories

Apparently, I'm being paid off by pedophiles.

This payoff is news to me, but it's what Some Random People on the Internet are saying, so it must be true, right? That's how this works? What other reason would I have for sharing factual information about the very real issue of child sex trafficking and calling out false stories of Satanic pedophile rings in which famous evil overlords like Tom Hanks, Oprah, and Hillary Clinton torture and sacrifice children to increase their own power? I simply must be "in on it" somehow.

That seems to be more plausible in some people's minds than the idea that the wild "Pizzagate" child sex ring theory, which has already been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked, could be fabricated by online trolls and perpetuated by politically-motivated players. People believe Pizzagate is real because they've been convinced that the entire media industry is in cahoots and because fringe "sources" with no oversight and no accountability—who insist they're the only ones telling the truth—said so.


Here's the thing about such conspiracy theories. (Yes, I know. Some of you think the term "conspiracy theory" was coined by the CIA—read this and stay out of my inbox, please.) Some conspiracy theories are goofy, but harmless. The "flat earth" thing, for example, or the idea that we faked the moon landing. Those beliefs are easily disproven and obviously ridiculous, but no one is being hurt by them. We can all laugh, shake our heads, and move on.

But these outrageous child sex trafficking conspiracy theories like those pushed by QAnon are harmful. Child sex trafficking is a very real, very serious, and very lucrative industry that organizations and governments have been battling for a long time. But QAnon isn't just saying "child sex trafficking is real and important and we need to shed a light on it." They're saying "There is a secret, global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who control everything—including politicians, the media, and Hollywood—and who engage in child sex trafficking and ritual sacrifice to harvest adenochrome from children, and Trump is here to save us all from their evil and it's only a matter of time before they all go down."

Those are two very different things—the issue of child sex trafficking (which is real) and the idea that Hillary Clinton literally sucking the lifeblood out of children in a pizza parlor basement (which doesn't even exist). The fact that we're nearly four years into Trump's presidency and none of these supposed Satanic pedophiles have actually been arrested—despite Trump supposedly knowing all about their dastardly deeds, according to Q—is more than a little weird. But that isn't stopping people from believing this stuff.

It's also not stopping people from hijacking perfectly good hashtags associated with perfectly good organizations and using them to "raise awareness" about this evil. This is why the #SaveTheChildren hashtag is suddenly showing up everywhere. As Kevin Roose wrote in the New York Times:

"The idea, in a nutshell, is to create a groundswell of concern by flooding social media with posts about human trafficking, joining parenting Facebook groups and glomming on to hashtag campaigns like #SaveTheChildren, which began as a legitimate fund-raising campaign for the Save the Children charity. Then followers can shift the conversation to baseless theories about who they believe is doing the trafficking: a cabal of nefarious elites that includes Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Pope Francis."

Some unsuspecting people are using this hashtag to talk about child sex trafficking in general, but many posts refer to the evil Hollywood elite and include various QAnon hashtags along with it. And by evil Hollywood elite, they don't mean the legitimate issue of Jeffrey Epstein and investigations into his sleazy, slimy, sick habits. They mean "The Cabal."

Some #SaveTheChildren posters are surely unaware that they've been sucked into a conspiracy theory web of disinformation, but those of us who have been following the QAnon phenomenon recognize the virtual fingerprints of a QAnon push. Some of it is obvious, like seeing the #WWG1WGA (a QAnon acronym—"Where we go one, we go all") accompanying many of these posts. But it's also the fact that #SaveTheChildren was soon changed to #SaveOurChildren. Why? Because QAnon followers got wind that Bill and Melinda Gates financially support the actual Save the Children organization that the hashtag originally was used for. And Bill Gates, of course, is one of those "evil global elites" who, according to QAnon, created the coronavirus on purpose in order to push his vaccine agenda and depopulate the planet.

So yeah. The #SaveTheChildren thing is a big effing mess.

What's the big deal, though? Isn't it just important that we raise awareness about child sex trafficking in general? Of course it is. But unfounded conspiracy theories are not only unhelpful to that cause, but actively harmful.

The Polaris Project is an organization that provides social services to victims of sex trafficking, works with law enforcement to perform crisis interventions for possible victims of trafficking, and runs the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. In a blog post, the organization explained how these unfounded conspiracy theories actually do harm to the child sex trafficking cause.

"A barrage of conspiracy-related reports from people with no direct knowledge of trafficking situations can overwhelm services meant for victims," the site states, pointing out that the recent Wayfair child sex trafficking conspiracy theory flooded their hotline with more calls than they could handle, with zero real leads to real victims, clogging the line so that real victims couldn't get through. They also point out that such theories can lead to loss of privacy or safety for victims or innocent bystanders. (Check out the threats and violence the owner of Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor in Washington D.C. has had to deal with over "Pizzagate.")

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, "Conspiracies distract from the more disturbing but simple realities of how sex trafficking actually works, and how we can prevent it." In other words, all this Pizzagate and Wayfair and adenochrome-sucking nonsense actually pulls people away from the reality of child sex trafficking and interferes with the work people could actually be doing to help prevent it. Most children aren't kidnapped out of the blue to be sold and abused, but are trafficked or abused by people they know. (See this article written by a woman who was trafficked by her father throughout her childhood.) Polaris encourages people to learn more about what trafficking actual is, what it looks like, and how it generally happens, rather than circulating misinformation.

The bottom line: While #SaveTheChildren might seem like a righteous thing to share, we have to recognize that there's a boatload of misinformation that is being shared along with it, and such misinformation can do more harm than good.

What should we do then to actually fight for children who are wrapped up in sex trafficking? Follow legitimate organizations that have been doing this work for years. Pay attention to what they say, as well as what they don't. (You won't find any of them endorsing QAnon conspiracies. If there were truth to them, these are the folks who would be first in line to shed light on it and do something about it.) Here are some to check out:

Polaris Project

Love146

The Exodus Road

ECPAT-USA

Thorn

Operation Underground Railroad

International Justice Mission

You can also learn more about child sex trafficking on the United States Department of Justice website.

Child sex trafficking is worthy cause to get behind. Just makes sure you're getting behind the real issue, supporting real organizations with the expertise to help, and avoiding conspiracy theories that only serve to distract from the real work being done to actually #SaveTheChildren.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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