It started with a Facebook post.
During the past weekend, a Grove woman posted in a public message on her Facebook profile, and on a local forum's page, talking about a negative experience at the Grove Walmart.
In the post - which has since been deleted from both pages - she told about two men following her throughout the store. She said once she reached the self-checkout, both of the men "met up by the door" and went outside - one going to the left of the doors, the other to the right.
Concerned for her safety, the woman wrote she approached a Walmart employee coming in from outside. From what we know, from talking with Walmart officials, the employee escorted the woman to her car, without incident.
The post then took on a dire tone which has caused multiple calls and messages to come into both The Grove Sun and the Grove Police Department from women concerned about their safety.
The woman said the Walmart employee informed her "human trafficking has been getting so bad here in Grove, Siloam and Gentry, that the females working in the Siloam and Gentry stores are using a system where they have a male employee walk them out every time they leave at night."
First off, let's be clear. No woman should ever be afraid to go out at night to a local business.
Both Grove Police Chief Mark Morris and Payton McCormick, media relations manager for Walmart, stress safety is paramount in all situations.
Both men recommend women who feel threatened find the store manager to report the situation. Morris suggests women make an immediate call to 911.
As in the case of another situation at the Grove store, when a group of young men were verbally harassing customers, management stepped in and police were notified. Immediate action was taken.
In the instance of the woman, she did eventually contact 911. She first talked with Grove Officer Scott Graham by Facebook message, and then later Assistant Police Chief Dan Hinman by phone.
Hinman is following up on the case, working with Walmart officials to obtain the surveillance footage from Friday night, to determine what happened at the store.
As of Thursday afternoon, he was still waiting for the store officials to provide the footage. The case remains under investigation.
Morris said all instances, when possible abuse or harassment is reported, his officers investigate the incident to the fullest extent. Reports such as the one made by the woman are taken seriously.
The woman later edited her post to say a Grove officer found the men in question but "couldn't tell her all the details."
Morris said Grove Officer Ray Harvey did answer a call about two men in the grassy park area between Walmart and the convenience stores, making lewd comments to women.
Harvey questioned the men, but they did not match the description given by the woman, and were not detained. Morris said at this time, he does not believe the two incidents are related.
Taking the post at face value - a woman simply letting reminding people in her hometown to be aware of their surroundings - the post made on July 13 is admirable.
Everyone should always keep their focus on the moment and stay focused on the world around them. That's just common sense.
But a post on social media, which throws in the hot button term "human trafficking" without authentication, may do more harm than good.
Morris said regardless of fact or fiction, posts on social media often establishes fear in the reader, pushing them over the fine line of awareness into paranoia.
At this point, Morris and his officers have been unable to confirm if a human trafficking ring is working in Grove.
The same is true in Siloam Springs. Captain Derek Spicer, with the Siloam Springs Police Department, said as of this week no instances of human trafficking, reportedly taking place at Walmart, has been authenticated.
He said every incident his department has been made aware of, either by Facebook post or report, has been investigated; with no evidence developing to prove human trafficking was occuring.
Does human trafficking take place in Oklahoma? Absolutely.
It is so extensive, a special division of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics was formed on Nov. 1, 2012, to deal with the issue.
Human trafficking is considered to be a form of modern-day slavery. One where a person uses "force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will." (Source: National Human Trafficking Hotline).
Could human trafficking happen in Grove? Absolutely.
Could it involve people being forcibly kidnapped from a public location such as Walmart? According to officials working with victims, most likely not.
Shawna Howard, a caseworker with DaySpring Villa, an organization in Oklahoma which works with victims of human trafficking, hears the stories.
She knows as long as there is a "demand," humans - mainly young, vulnerable male and females in their early teens - will become the "supply."
Howard said most victims tell a similar story. The approach may vary, but the method is the same. The victims were "groomed" by someone who gained their trust either through a friendship either in person or via the internet.
Most of the victims were vulnerable youth - what Howard calls the "low hanging kids" - the ones without a strong social or family structure designed to keep them safe.
Howard said most human traffickers like to "fly under the radar."
She said while a woman being approached at a public store is possible, most human traffickers would rather work under the cover of darkness. Secrecy is their main tool.
Unlike the scenario in the move "Taken," human trafficking typically doesn't happen with the woman being forcibly pulled into a van or vehicle.
Instead it comes from someone going to a party and being drugged - and then held against their will - or from someone being lured away from their home by a new boyfriend or girlfriend who seems trustworthy.
She said most likely, in the instance at Walmart, the men were not human traffickers, but rather someone looking for a crime of opportunity.
"I hear stories after the fact, when [the victims] are often more honest," Howard said. "I've heard a lot of similarities in their stories. This is not a scenario that I've ever come across."
Because of the post, and the questions raised about the issue by people on The Grove Sun's Facebook page, we plan to dive into the subject of human trafficking, in hopes we can shed some light on the subject.
We believe knowledge is power. Truth helps set people free from fear.
And if the stories can prevent one teen or vulnerable young adult from falling victim to a predator, the time and effort the series takes to develop will be well worth it.
Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller is the managing editor of The Grove Sun and Delaware County Journal. Have an idea for a column or story? She can be reached at email@example.com or 918-786-2228.