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15 September 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Unsplash
Kidnapping and human trafficking are a real threat to people worldwide. Should you find yourself in such a situation, your main focus must be on your own safety and survival.

Kidnapping and human trafficking are a real threat to people worldwide, and recent incidents reported on social media highlight the need for staff and students to remain vigilant, says Cobus van Jaarsveld, Assistant Director: Threat Detection, Investigations and Liaison from Protection Services at the University of the Free State.

Van Jaarsveld adds that should you find yourself in such a situation, your main focus must be on your own safety and survival. 

He provides some tips to avoid being kidnapped, as well as some actions to take when you are kidnapped. These tips come from sources that deal with incidents such as these on a daily basis, including WorldAware, the South African Police Service, and Interpol.

When walking to your destination, keep the following in mind:

• Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
• Tell a trusted person where you will be, who you will be with, and when you expect to return.
• If you sense that someone is following you when you get off a bus, taxi or train, walk towards a well-populated area.
• Do not wear headphones or read while walking or standing on the street.
• When on the street, walk facing oncoming traffic. It will be harder for someone in a vehicle to abduct you.
• Do not hitchhike.
• Try to maintain a low profile.
• Modify your fashion style, toning down colours and accessories.
• Wear comfortable clothing; women should avoid wearing high heels and slippers, which are difficult to run in when attempting to escape. If you are going out with high heels, always have a pair of comfortable flat shoes handy.
• Avoid wearing clothing with long straps such as scarves, necklaces, and purses. These items can be used to strangle you or to tie you up.
• Try to not overload yourself with packages.
• Stay off the street if you are alone and upset or under the influence of medications or alcohol.
• Avoid using outside ATMs at night or in unfamiliar surroundings.
• Avoid isolated or poorly lit restrooms and be extra careful on stairwells.
• Do not get into an elevator with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable. If this is unavoidable, stand near the controls and locate the emergency button.

Prof Beatri Kruger, Research fellow at the Free State Centre for Human Rights in the UFS Faculty of Law, has conducted extensive research on the topic of human trafficking over the years. She adds to Van Jaarsveld’s safety tips and says it is important to memorise emergency telephone numbers. “Save them on your cellphone, especially the 0800 222 777 number, which is the Human Trafficking national helpline available 24/7 free of charge.”

Alternatively call the mobile phone emergency number 112 or Protection Services toll free line 080 020 4682.

“It is also important to arrange a code word with family or close friends – so that when you say or text that word and where you are, they will know to immediately come to you.”

In this day and age, Prof Kruger also urges everyone to empower themselves with reliable information on what trafficking is and what methods traffickers use to lure, deceive, trap, and control you. She suggests the website of the national Freedom Network: or their Facebook page: for more information. 

• Distribution of fake news 
Staff and students are requested to refrain from distributing fake news on any communication platform, as the distribution of fake news places an additional burden on the limited capacity of law enforcement agencies. 
Currently, a message is being distributed on social media and via WhatsApp, containing content with unconfirmed allegations that was originally distributed in 2017 (a company by the name of Forex, kidnapping females for human trafficking and selling their body parts). 
Protection Services supports the university's sentiment – as communicated in the Strategic Plan – that the well-being and safety of its staff and students need to receive top priority.   
They are currently looking into an alleged incident that occurred on 14 September 2020; all steps are being taken to ensure the safety of our students and staff. 

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