The Elizabeth Police Department issued a statement Wednesday debunking viral online posts accusing a religious group of secretly trying to lure women and girls into sex work while proselytizing at the Jersey Gardens Mall.
"Several of you have shared allegations of sex trafficking by an organization/religion known as 'God the Mother.' This group has been operating around the country attempting to add to their ranks and has allegedly attempted to engage people in Elizabeth shopping areas. They typically approach someone and strike up a conversation revolving around religion, philosophy, and faith," police said.
"Law enforcement agencies around the country have looked into their practices and while many of us find attempts at recruitment while we are shopping, intrusive or suspicious, there have been no official reports of sex trafficking in relation to them."
The religious group, officially known as the World Mission Society of God, was founded in South Korea in the mid-1960s and has been likened to a cult by critics. WMSOG, which preaches that God is a South Korean woman named Jang Gil-ja, has raised concern on college campuses and in cities across the country.
The State Press of Arizona reported that students have been alarmed by the presence of the group on the Arizona State University's Tempe campus. Students there told the news site that the group's members spoke in "robotic" tones and appeared "creepy" when approaching them to discuss the faith.
But while WMSOG is controversial, allegations that the group is engaged in sex trafficking have repeatedly been proved false, including at a college campus in North Carolina last year and in Fargo, North Dakota earlier this year.
"God the Mother' is exercising their 1st Amendment rights when trying to engage [the pubic] in conversation, but like any stranger who approaches you to sell you on something you should exercise judgment and caution," Elizabeth police said.
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