This story was first published on July 7, 2011
Circulating message warns that violent gang members are using children who pretend to be lost as a means of tricking women into going to gang houses where they will be raped.
There are no credible police or media reports that support the claims in the message. In fact, there is no evidence at all that such crimes are actually being committed. The warning is just a variation of a series of gang related urban legends that have no basis in fact.
A New Trick This is from a County Sheriffs Department, please read this message very carefully. This message is for any lady who goes to work, college or school or even driving or walking the streets alone. If you find a young person crying on the road showing you their address and is asking you to take them to that address… take that child to the POLICE STATION ! ! No matter what you do, DON’T go to that address. This is a new way for gang members to rape women. Please forward this message to all ladies & guys so that they can inform their sisters & friends and family. Our 1 message may save a life. Published by CNN & FOX NEWS (Please circulate)..**Please DO NOT IGNORE ! Thank you
ATTENTION ALL GIRLS AND LADIES: If you walk from home, school, office or anywhere and you are alone and you come across a little boy crying holding a piece of paper with an address on it, DO NOT TAKE HIM THERE! take him straight to the police station for this is the new ‘gang’ way of rape. The incident is getting worse. Warn your families. Re-post this so this mesage can get across to people.
Subject: Be CarefulSheriffs Department Warning!
This is from the County Sheriffs Department, please read this message very carefully:
This message is for any lady who goes to work, college or school or even Driving or walking the streets alone. If you find a young person crying on the road, who shows you their address and is asking you to take them to that Address, take that child to the POLICE STATION!!
No matter what you do, DON’T go to that address. This is a new way for gang members (MS13) to rape women.
Please forward this message to all ladies & guys so that they can inform their sisters & friends and family. Please don’t feel shy to forward this message. Our 1 message may save a life.
Published by CNN & FOX NEWS (Please circulate)..
**Please DO NOT IGNORE! Thank you!
According to this widely circulated message, which purports to be from the “County Sheriffs Department”, women need to be very wary if they find a child crying beside the road who provides an address and asks to be taken home. The message claims that, instead of going to the child’s home as they believe they are, the women will instead end up at the gang’s premises, where they will be set upon and raped. The warning advises women to take the child to a police station rather than the address they have been given. It exhorts recipients to pass on the warning to as many people as possible and claims that the story has been published on CNN and Fox News. The story, which has been circulating in various incarnations since at least 2005, travels via email, social media posts and phone text messages. The original version names the MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) gang as the one responsible for the supposed attacks. Other versions do not specify a particular gang and often claim that the attacks are part of an initiation process for new members.
However, extensive research reveals no credible evidence whatsoever that supports the claims in the warning message. Despite the claim that the warning was aired on CNN and Fox News, there are no such reports on those news outlets. In fact, there are no reports about crimes that use such a modus operandi in any credible news publications.
Moreover, the claim that the warning originated with a police or Sheriff’s department have been repeatedly denied by various law enforcement agencies. There are several versions of the warning circulating some of which name specific police departments in various US states and elsewhere in the world as well.
A January 2011 report from the El Paso County Sheriff’s office dismissed the message as a hoax, noting:
El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies are warning area residents about a hoax text circulating locally that claims to have originated from the sheriff’s office. [The deputy] said sheriff’s officials don’t send out text warnings to cell phone users, and they issue any emergency advisories through local media or the sheriff’s office Facebook and Twitter pages.
In February 2011, Police in Rockton, Illinois posted the following disclaimer on the department’s Facebook page:
HOAX ALERT: If you receive an email about a “gang initiation” involving a crying child, it did not come from any law enforcement agency. Please do not forward it.
In May 2011, The Orange County Sherriff’s Office published this notification to the public:
Orange County Sheriff, Keith Merritt has released information that an email is being distributed warning people not to transport children found crying in the street, to a residence. The Sheriff’s office has not sent this email and the email has been identified as a hoax.
And the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department, has also warned residents about the hoax, noting in a March 2011 report that:
Law enforcement officials at the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department, Boone County Sheriff’s Department and Rockford Police Department said they didn’t originate the e-mail and advise the public not to circulate it.
Police in Malaysia have debunked a local version of the hoax, noting in a May 2011 report:
PETALING JAYA: Police say the SMS messages circulating about a syndicate which uses crying children to trap unsuspecting women in order to rob or rape them is fake. Bukit Aman CID director Datuk Seri Bakri Zinin said the public should not be duped by the message, which has been circulating nationwide since last year. “We have conducted thorough investigations into this matter and have confirmed that there is no syndicate using such a modus operandi,” he said.
In essence, the warning is just another incarnation of an old “gang violence” urban legend that has taken many forms over many years. A similar warning falsely claims that gang members are placing infant car seats containing fake babies on the sides of rural roads as a means of tricking potential victims into stopping their cars so that gang members can rape and rob them as part of an initiation.
Another version tells the tale of a violent rapist who disguises himself as a helpful old woman who guards a car with a broken window until his female victim returns and offers him a lift. Other variants of the tale have warned of gang members intent on rape who hide in the back seat of cars while their victim pays for fuel at a service station and an evil killer disguised as a good Samaritan who variously changes a flat tyre for his woman victim before asking for a lift or tries to return a dropped five dollar note as a means of gaining access to his victim’s vehicle. Yet another variant falsely suggests that a serial killer is using a recording of a crying baby to lure potential victims out of their houses.
Are attacks like the ones described in these stories possible? Well, yes, violent criminals use many different methods to abduct and attack their victims and it is certainly not impossible that crimes similar to the ones described above have occurred at some point in time, somewhere in the world. If you are confronted with an unusual situation or one that just does not “feel right”, then by all means you should go with your gut instinct and exercise caution. If you do encounter a lost child isolated on the side of the road, it would probably be wiser to contact police rather than take the child home both for the child’s safety and that of your own.
However, the bottom line is that the widespread and planned campaign of rape warned of in this message is simply not happening. Thus, sending on this warning will achieve nothing other than to spread unnecessary fear and alarm among communities and potentially distract recipients from watching out for much more credible threats. It might also stop people from attempting to assist children in need.