A viral social media post warning of human traffickers fronting as a religious organization inviting “people to bible study” alarmed some Seton Hall students after similar occurrences were reported on campus.
The author of the post, which appeared on Twitter, stated that two women in their late 20s or early 30s tried to recruit people for their organization, discussed “God the Mother” and seemed fixated on women.
“After Googling God the Mother, we found out it’s a ploy used by human trafficking groups right now,” the post stated. “They are abducting young women from campuses and grocery stores.”
The post worried some students who shared that they experienced a similar situation to the one described in the post.
However, Patrick Linfante, the associate vice president for Public Safety, said that Public Safety does not believe the solicitors to be tied to human trafficking.
“Public Safety has contacted other law enforcement agencies and has found no evidence or information that suggest or indicates that they are part of a human trafficking group,” Linfante said in an email. “At this time, all the information available to us indicates this was a rumor started on social media and we have no information to suggest otherwise.”
Linfante said that there were three separate incidents related to the organization that were reported to Public Safety. The incidents occurred in mid-January, right around the time students returned from winter break, but were not reported to Public Safety until mid-February, according to Linfante.
The solicitors did not tell students what organization they were a part of. They asked students about their belief in God and said that God was a woman and that the Virgin Mary was actually God, Linfante said.
Other colleges like the University of Memphis, the University of Mississippi and Vanderbilt University have experienced similar situations.
WREG News, in Memphis, Tenn., attributed the solicitors to an organization called the World Mission Society Church of God. On the World Mission Society Church of God’s website, there is a page that discusses God the Mother.
“The existence of a father naturally indicates there are children,” the site states. “Children can only have life if there is also a mother because it is the mother who gives birth. Christ showed us to pray to our Father in heaven because, as children of God, we also have God our Mother.”
WREG News, The Daily Mississippian (the University of Mississippi’s student newspaper) and the Vanderbilt Hustler (Vanderbilt University’s student newspaper) all reported that law enforcement officials said that the organization did not appear to be tied to human trafficking.
Victor Lozada, a missionary with the World Mission Society Church of God, said that there are members of the church who previously attended Seton Hall. He said in the past those members spoke about their organization with students.
Lozada said that the rumor of the church being tied to human trafficking spread like wildfire on social media.
“This rumor has now been linked to our religious activities, without any type of proof or foundation,” Lozada wrote in an email. “Not only are the allegations completely false with no evidence to support such claims, this rumor has caused unnecessary fear among our congregations and our members.”
Lozada said that the rumors have spread fear among members of the church. According to Lozada, some social media users have threatened violence against members of the church – members have also received threatening phone calls.
Morgan Smith, a senior psychology major at Seton Hall, said members of the church once approached her on campus.
Smith said that she felt uncomfortable talking to the members, but that the talk never felt malicious. She didn’t think to report the incident to Public Safety because the situation seemed normal on a Catholic campus.
Smith said she first heard the rumor that the organization was tied to human trafficking on Twitter.
“I immediately Googled it and tried to find as much information about it as possible,” Smith wrote in an email. “The more I read about it, the more I realized that it might not be a front for human trafficking, but it still seemed pretty sketchy. I was a little nervous, but I tried to brush it off because you can’t always believe what you read on the internet, and especially on social media.”
Though the rumors about the World Mission Society Church of God were found to be untrue, Linfante wanted to remind students that they should always report suspicious persons or activities on campus.
Linfante said, “Remember, ‘If you see something, say something.’”
Ashley Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.