A Target Sex-Trafficking Hoax Is Going Viral on TikTok

“OK, so I saw this TikTok that Target is the new sex trafficking hub, or very commonly known for sex trafficking, and I saw this girl posted her story so I wanted to say about mine,” Makenzie Jade says in her video. She then tells a story about being followed by a man while in the produce section of her local Target, then being circled by two additional men with nothing in their shopping carts. She called her mother and boyfriend, who contacted Target employees to ensure her safety and walk her to her car, where she says she saw one of the men she had seen in the store waiting for her.

The harrowing story, told in two parts, is hashtagged #sextraffickingawareness and #target, and has a combined 1.2 million views. In an Instagram direct message, Makenzie says she posted the video “to raise awareness to the situation.” “It is something you only see in movies,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I saw another girl post what happened to her, not thinking it would ever happen to me at my local Target.”

The “it” Makenzie is referring to is sex trafficking. Over the past week on TikTok, there have been dozens of videos, some with millions of views, in which young women from all over the country describe being followed by strange men or women in Target in what they describe as an attempted trafficking operation, though the videos don’t really clarify what that term means.

In one video, Allie Mellman, a 27-year-old woman from St. Paul, Minnesota, describes being approached by a woman in Target five years ago who asked her if she needed financial help and then gave her a man’s business card; when she looked up the name on the card, she couldn’t find a website or social media profile for the man. “At the time I thought it was really weird,” says Mellman, whose video got more than 587,000 views. But it wasn’t until she saw other videos on TikTok of women describing similar experiences that she thought it may have been linked to “trafficking.” “I was like, oh my God, that sounds exactly like what happened to me.”

In a two-part video series with more than 7 million views, Kassidy Brown, 22, from Omaha, Nebraska, describes being followed by a young woman and what appeared to be her mother at a local Target before getting security involved. All of the young women in these videos describe feeling uncomfortable or unsafe by their encounters, but only labeling them as a trafficking attempt after seeing other women share their own stories in TikTok videos.

Human Trafficking Scam at Target—Another Story #humantraffickingawareness #target #humantrafficking #ssdgm

♬ Things Will Get Better… Eventually – Lo-Fi Eamonn