Human trafficking: Private citizens deputized in the global fight
Travel companies, airlines, and other parts of corporate America are starting to provide training programs to help employees recognize human trafficking. Will heightened awareness help detect more trafficking cases?
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Delta Airlines and Hilton Hotels recently became the fourth and fifth US-based signers, signaling an uptick in those joining the fight, says Ms. Cundy. "At some point, we do hope that it becomes normal business practice," she says.Skip to next paragraph
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Employees trained to spot telltale signs of a trafficking victim are often advised to look for evidence of malnourishment, scripted or inconsistent stories, signs of physical abuse, and fear. Traffickers are often unable to answer even basic questions about those they are "escorting" and may prevent them from speaking to others.
AAI founder and president Nancy Rivard learned in June of another incident in which special training paid off. In that case, the trained individuals identified two children on a flight who appeared to be distraught and whose accounts of where they were going conflicted with what their escorts said. Authorities who subsequently investigated the incident uncovered a trafficking ring in Boston – and rescued 82 children.
"There are many, many stories every month," says Ms. Rivard. "Our goal is to provide training at airports across the country."
It was standing room only at AAI's largest training to date, held at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in January, she says. The program takes roughly 90 minutes, and participants receive wallet cards describing signs of traffickers and victims. The session is geared mainly toward heightening awareness.
Lack of awareness among Americans is one of the most challenging aspects of the fight against human trafficking, says Representative Smith, who chairs the House subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights. Organized crime, street gangs, and pimps are increasingly engaged in international sex trafficking, an "extremely lucrative undertaking" that can net a trafficker $200,000 per victim, he said June 13 at a subcommittee hearing.
Prosecutions in the US of alleged human traffickers jumped between 2009 and 2010, according to an annual State Department report, released June 27. Perhaps less heartening, the number of convictions dropped, along with the number of identified victims, it found. In the US, victims are often trafficked from other countries, though some are runaway juveniles or children abducted domestically, the report said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted the importance of strategic partnerships in battling trafficking, which she said enslaves as many as 27 million adults and children worldwide.
"Government should work more closely with the private sector," she said. "The decade of delivery is upon us."
Corporate participation, especially in the travel industry, is vital, says Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT USA. The child prostitution trade has touched many airlines, hotels, and other enterprises, she says. "It has happened at every brand, because it's everywhere."