Human trafficking threats increase downtown

Ellen McDonald, News Editor

On the afternoon of Sept. 26th, Kate Hancock was approached by a man in front of Creative Edge Salon and the Barnes Health Care Pharmacy in downtown Florence.

Hancock was visiting her boyfriend, a student of the University of North Alabama, and when she parked on Court Street, she had to park a bit away from the restaurant where they chose to eat.

“We were in there for like an hour and half maybe, and I left and walked out the car by myself,” said Hancock. “I was getting closer to my car and I saw this guy walking towards me. He asked if I had tampons and then asked again and got closer.”

Hancock then noticed that all the man had in his hand was a rag.

“At that point, my boyfriend and the guy saw one another and the guy gave up the questioning and sped off,” said Hancock. “He was within arms reach of me… the guy thought I was alone.”

After this, Hancock’s parents filed a police report in the city of Florence. In their research, they found that there has been another incident almost identical to that of their daughter’s.

“It [the incident] made me feel unsafe then,” said Hancock. “Since then, I’ve been more sketched out more easily. Any man that gets too close to me, it makes me nervous.”

In the days and weeks following her encounter, she kept thinking about what if he knew where she was. Hancock was worried the man had placed a tracking device on her vehicle while she was eating.

“One red flag was a grown man asked a teenage girl for a tampon. If his wife needed one, she would have asked,” said Hancock. “When I told him I didn’t have [a tampon], he would not back off and followed me as I was walking.”

Hancock added that if he had really needed a tampon, he would not have backed off when he saw her boyfriend. There was no girl in his car; it was just him.

Later on, Hancock’s boyfriend mentioned that the man’s license plate was a “Texas applied for” tag.

Hancock said that before this, she had never experienced anything like it. Like most young women, she had been made to feel uncomfortable by men, but never as if she were in danger.

“Always be aware of your surroundings even if you think you don’t have to be,” said Hancock. “Try to not walk to your car by yourself and carry protection.”

She also suggests to pay more attention to the person so you can identify them. It is much easier for police to identify potential suspects if they have a clear description of the accused. Being able to identify key features like scars or tattoos is much better than assumed weight and height.

That is easier said than done however because when someone feels threatened and their brain is telling them to “run,” the focus is not on the features of the person approaching them, but getting away.

“Be more cautious, don’t walk by yourself, don’t look in your purse if someone asks you to,” said Hancock. “Just say ‘no’ and keep walking.”

Hancock added that when someone is in a situation like hers, they have to think fast. So, she recommends having defense items like mace, pepper spray, alarms or a taser, already in hand. If it is lying at the bottom of a purse or book-bag, that gives the approacher just enough time to inflict harm.

“He was probably 6 foot or taller,” said Hancock. “… in his 40’s, had  black hair down to his shoulders, and looked like he had a trimmed mustache.”

She went on to add that he drove a Dodge Durango.

Most women know all too well the danger of walking alone at night, but Hancock was walking to her car in the populated downtown area in broad daylight.

“I feel shocked, scared, upset and unnerved,” said Hancock.