Proselytizers probe dispels cult concerns

Winnipeg Free Press/February 11, 2019

By Carol Sanders

The Winnipeg Police Service says an investigation of unidentified proselytizers targeting lone young women on university campuses found that the recruiters are actually members of a religious group.

"The counter-exploitation unit has investigated the reports and it has been confirmed that this was, in fact, simply a religious group looking to spread some information and gain new members," Winnipeg police Const. Tammy Skrabek said Monday. Winnipeg police declined to identify the religious denomination of the group.

Dozens of young women in Winnipeg — mainly students at universities — expressed alarm on social media about the tactics of the two women who didn’t identify themselves, their religion or offer any pamphlets or printed material. The students were approached when they were alone, and all seemed to be Indigenous in appearance. They said they were asked to talk about God and, if they lingered long enough, they were invited on a retreat and asked for their contact information.

The young women said they wondered whether the recruiters worked for a cult or human traffickers, and whether vulnerable young women alone in the city were at risk for exploitation.

Winnipeg police received a report last week and a counter-exploitation unit investigated.

"No criminal activity was noted and no charges were laid," Skrabek said in an email.

One of the students approached by the proselytizers said it’s good to know police checked them out and that they weren’t trying to exploit anyone.

"That’s a relief," Teren Hupalo said Monday.

The University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg reported a total seven complaints from female students in the last two weeks.

A photo of two of the female proselytizers being asked to leave the U of W campus was posted on Facebook by a student who said she had encountered them more than once and was alarmed at their persistence. The post of the proselytizers at the U of W was seen last week by Hupalo, a U of M student, who was surprised when the pair approached her the next day at the school on the other side of the city.

In an earlier interview, she questioned why they didn’t identify themselves and why they singled out women who are alone.

"Even if they had good intentions, it’s an eerie feeling," said the third-year student, who easily brushed them off. Her concern was for those who are new to Winnipeg and on their own. "It’s good to be aware of your surroundings," she said Monday.

Similar encounters on U.S. university campuses were reported on last year by university newspapers and publications including the Daily Beast and People. They involved religious recruiters associated with the World Mission Society Church of God.

It was founded in 1964 in South Korea by Ahn Sahng-hong, and its members consider him to be second coming of Christ. The group, which claims to have more than two million members worldwide, has been publicly criticized.

Since last week, the U of W has received no further complaints, spokesman Kevin Rosen said Monday.

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