At first, she noticed nothing out of the ordinary about the middle-aged woman who showed up at her workplace offering the 22-year-old a hip and high-paying modelling gig.
In fact, Emily Brown thought the woman looked like a typical mom and had been quite convincing.
But the Sackville resident now knows she was duped. Brown would soon find out the woman who approached her while she was working alone at a Sackville coffee shop on Monday evening was not a Forever 21 recruiter, nor was her name Meta Lynn.
Brown reported the incident to the RCMP that evening. She also shared her story in a Facebook post that’s been shared more than 2,500 times.
“I just wanted to give a heads up to girls in the Sackville and Halifax area to avoid her if she tries to approach you, as there is no such thing as Forever 21 scouts here looking for local girls,” read part of her post.
Brown says she’s since received several responses to her post, many from other young women saying they had heard of others being propositioned in the exact same way.
Brown says she’s still shaken by the encounter.
“In retrospect, she did have a creepy kind of vibe about her. She wouldn’t take her eyes off me while I was making her coffee and I noticed she was staring at me before she even made me her
“But at the time she was very convincing.”
The woman left Brown with her phone number on a piece of paper before making a second appearance near the store about three hours later.
Brown’s mother, who spoke anonymously, spoke to her soon after the encounter and saw a potentially more sinister side to the woman’s motives. She urged her daughter to contact the RCMP.
“My first thought was this was possibly a human trafficking scheme,” said the woman. “People like that operate in a group and they can be quite convincing. I think it’s pretty scary to think how easy it is for young women to fall into that trap.”
The RCMP is not commenting on the case at this point. An employee of Forever 21 at Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth, who spoke anonymously, said the clothing company does not employ anyone in such a scouting role.
Jackie Stevens, executive director of Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax, stopped short of calling the incident an attempt at luring the woman, but she did say the organization has heard of people being coaxed in similar ways for the purposes of sexual trafficking or sexual assault.
“They have experienced this either by someone they know and trust or by a stranger,” said Stevens. “For example, serial rapist Steven Ewanchuk was posting as a model talent scout and luring young women into a trailer in a mall parking lot for interviews.
“Some young women have identified being invited to go somewhere with a friend, i.e. party, and being trafficked. It is important for the general public to be aware that sometimes people target others for violence and victimization by taking advantage of their sense of trust and safety.”
Brown says she remains unsure of the woman’s motives but after the incident felt a duty to share her story in hopes of raising awareness.
“I wasn’t going to go public at first but something was telling me to do this, that I could be doing a good thing. In my case, I was kind of naïve to the possibility. I grew up in a small town my entire life, where you know everyone and you don’t think you could be a potential victim of something potentially so horrible.”
Miia Suokonautio, executive director of Young Women’s Christian Association in Halifax, says the organization gets calls “all the time” from young women in the trafficking industry looking for help.
“ It’s absolutely an issue that happens in Halifax, to which many people are not aware, particularly vulnerable are girls and Indigenous girls,” said Suokonautio.
“Who knows what the motive was with that woman? It could be someone with mental healthissues or it could be someone who’s pranking her. But for us, as it relates to this it starts to increase the profile that this type of luring actually does happen in our community. The fact that it’s registering for people is really important. Once you start to become sensitized to it you’re better able to keep your eyes and ears open and respond the proper way.”
The organization is involved in the Nova Scotia Trafficking Elimination Partnership, and has developed a 12-page reference guide of commonly used terms and techniques used in the human trafficking industry.
“It’s a common narrative of being discovered, being flattered, that someone finds you beautiful. There’s a grooming process and you’re told you’re beautiful, given gifts, but at the same time it’s a psychological recruitment as well.”
Brown admits she could have possibly fallen for the offer if she didn’t first consult with her mother,who recognized the seriousness of the situation immediately.
About three hours after her first encounter with Brown, the woman made a second appearance, walking past the coffee shop. Brown called her mother, who arrived right away.
Her mother managed to get a picture of the unsuspecting woman while she was leaving a nearby grocery store. She also called the number provided to her daughter. No one picked up the call and the woman identified in the voicemail was different than the name of the woman who propositioned her daughter.
“My daughter is pretty, but she’s also very sweet, chatty and friendly so I can understand why she might be a target,” Brown’s mother said. “I look back on this and I’m thankful that she called me right away after it happened. I have an open relationship with Emily where she could feel comfortable talking to me about something like this. I would hope that this story would encourageother parents to foster the same kind of relationship.”
Merideth Ralston, chairwoman of Mount Saint Vincent University’s women’s studies program and an expert in sex work issues and sex tourism, praised Brown for going public with her story.
“I like the fact that people are more aware that these things can happen, that they’re not totally naïve about it,” said Ralston. “You see most of the cases where victims have been much younger, women around the ages of 14 and 15.”
While Ralston says she could only speculate on what the woman’s intentions were, she also said it’s an incident with potential dangers and which should be discussed publicly.
“Where there’s a demand for commercial sex there’s going to be broader coercion, particularly when you’re talking about young women under 18 years old who can’t give consent and are being forced into something as horrific as human trafficking.”