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Sofia Ahmed
By Sofia Ahmed March 15, 2024

2016 death not connected to false sex trafficking claims about Clintons

If Your Time is short

  • Monica Petersen was no longer working for what was then the University of Denver’s Human Trafficking Center when she was in Haiti in 2016 to teach and start a nongovernmental organization. 
  • The director of the former Human Trafficking Center said Petersen was not in Haiti to investigate allegations of sex trafficking involving the Clinton Foundation.
  • Learn more about PolitiFact’s fact-checking process and rating system.

Human trafficking researcher Monica Petersen’s 2016 death in Haiti sparked a conspiracy theory that she was killed for investigating sex trafficking allegations involving former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. 

Seven years later, the debunked claim continues to spread online.

An Instagram post shows a split-screen graphic of Petersen and Hillary Clinton, with text that reads, "We will not forget about hero Monica Petersen who was ‘suicided’ while in Haiti investigating the Clintons for child trafficking," implying that her death was made to look like a suicide.

This post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The claim is tied to a larger conspiracy theory called "pizzagate," which alleges that Hilary Clinton and her campaign manager were running a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. PolitiFact has repeatedly debunked "pizzagate" claims

The University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, which housed the Human Trafficking Center, posted an obituary for Peterson on Facebook on Nov. 15, 2016. The post said she died Nov. 13, 2016, in Haiti after leaving her position as a research assistant at the Human Trafficking Center in June 2016. 

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The Human Trafficking Center, which closed in June 2021, also made a December 2016 Facebook post sharing a Washington Post fact-check in which Claude d’Estrée, the Human Trafficking Center’s then-director, told the Post that Petersen was not in Haiti to research human trafficking or investigate the Clintons. 

"I would like to bring this chapter of my dear friend and colleague’s life to a close. This does not mean we should end our vigilance around fake news and its very real consequences," d’Estrée said. 

D’Estreé told The Washington Post in 2016 that Petersen had been to Haiti many times before she died there at age 32, adding that she had been teaching and was exploring setting up a nongovernmental organization. D’Estreé said the death was a suicide but said the circumstances were unclear. 

Some online conspiracy theorists pointed to a 2015 Facebook post by Petersen in which she said she was traveling to Haiti to do field work for three weeks. The post does not say Petersen planned to investigate the Clintons or the Clinton Foundation while she was there. 

Other online conspiracy theorists cited a blog post Petersen had shared on Facebook that criticized the Clinton Foundation’s philanthropy in Haiti. The theorists said that Petersen wrote the post and that it’s evidence she was assassinated for investigating the foundation. Petersen did not write the article; a woman named Chantal Laurent did. 

We rate the claim that Petersen was assassinated in Haiti while investigating the Clintons’ child trafficking Pants on Fire!

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2016 death not connected to false sex trafficking claims about Clintons

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