The Daily Aztec

Campus religious group grapples with false sex trafficking rumors

Tristi Rodriguez and Mirella Lopez

by Kaitlyn Little, Staff Writer

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Despite being proven false, rumors about a religious group targeting girls for human trafficking are still circulating on social media and some students say it could have something to do with their recruitment methods.

Numerous students at San Diego State said they’ve been approached by the religious group “God the Mother” at night on campus, asking for their contact information and inviting them to their Bible study group. Students said they are often approached at night, leading to increased suspicion.

Hospitality junior Alice Henderson said she was approached around 9 p.m. when she was walking home. She said the group members were very adamant about gathering her contact information.

“She wasn’t hostile at all but she really wanted my phone number, and I (said), ‘Maybe I’ll give you my email,’ and she (said), ‘But, I really want your phone number,’” Henderson said.

Journalism and media studies senior Megan Cheung, who was approached by the group on campus one afternoon, also said it was their persistence that she found most alarming.

“They said they have a Bible study and seemed like the type who would not take ‘no’ for an answer,” Cheung said. “They tried to invite me to their Bible study and they asked for my number and I gave them a different number.”

The group is known as the Zion Bible Study Club — a Christian club that works alongside The World Mission Society Church of God promoting their message of “God the Mother.” Their church has 2.7 million members around the world, according to The World Mission Society Church of God website. The club hosts Bible seminars and Bible studies that focus on various prophecies.

When told about students’ various experiences with the group, student member and biology senior Maria Ohaeri said she apologizes on behalf of her club.

“That is never our intention to make students feel pressured in joining our club,” said Ohaeri. “In regards to the situations, our club does not go promoting at 9 p.m. because that is when we hold our club activities. We would like students to know that if they are not interested, then they can simply say ‘no’.”

Ohaeri said she can assure students their organization has no ties to sex trafficking, and that they have actively worked with outside organizations on addressing these rumors.

“We talked with the university police department as well as the San Diego Law Enforcement Coordination Center and the San Diego Human Trafficking task force and they all gained evidence indicating that there (are) no human sex trafficking activities that are happening or related to our church or even related to our club,” Ohaeri said.

Besides SDSU, the organization is also active at other local campuses, including UC San Diego and San Diego City College.

Despite the rumors and concerns from students, the religious group was continuing to recruit students to join their group. Ohaeri said the group wants to spread the message of the Bible. She said she hopes students will stop feeding into rumors and instead pursue their own research.

“I just hope that students are able to do their research on how it even started and this came about because it started on another campus and on that campus, human sex trafficking was actually something that was going on.”

Ohaeri said she believes part of the problem stems from people failing to think critically about information they see on social media sites like Twitter — the platform where the sex trafficking rumors originated.

“You know everyone looks at Twitter as their news,” Ohaeri said, “so, I would say that’s how people started to get nervous or started to form an opinion against our club but actually none of (the rumors are) true.”

Despite this, the San Diego State Police Department advised students to be cautious when revealing any personal information to unfamiliar people.

“Only provide personal information to trusted people or organizations,” university police spokesperson Raquel Herriott said in an email. “If a student believes someone inappropriately gained access to their information, they can call campus police.”

Herriot also provided several tips on how students can react when students are approached by strangers on campus.

“When on and around campus, students are encouraged to walk with trusted friends or classmates,” Herriot said. “If students are approached by unknown people, students can keep objects such as a bench or trashcan between them. If someone is actively stalking a student on campus, we ask the student to call 911 or use a blue light emergency duress phone to contact university police.”

The attached video was originally published on March 23, 2018.

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