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Cracking Down on Trafficking

​HUMAN TRAFFICKING is a major international problem, with a reported 800,000 victims trafficked across international borders every year. Various organizations are taking different approaches to getting traffickers off the streets and assisting victims.

One proponent of helping the most helpless victims, the children, is Nancy Rivard, president and founder of Airline Ambassadors International (AAI). Because many abducted children are transported via airplanes—not hidden in cargo containers but in passenger seats for all to see—AAI and other organizations are trying to get airlines to train flight crews to recognize the signs of trafficking.

Signs include situations when adults don’t seem to know a child’s name (for example, they have to check a paper to find the name) or when the adult is wearing appropriate clothing but the child isn’t, says Rivard. Another red flag is if the adult won’t let the child out of sight, as when a male tries to accompany a girl to the women’s restroom even though she seems old enough to go alone. The children may also have signs of abuse, such as bruises.

Rivard points out that the airlines already train flight attendants to look for suspicious behavior related to other threats, so adding the trafficking section would not require a huge investment. She is hoping that airlines and hotels will sign onto the ECPAT-USA tourism Code of Conduct which states that the signatory organization will make policies that condemn human trafficking and train employees to look for it. ECPAT-USA is a network of organizations that protects children trafficked into the United States.

Delta Air Lines recently became the first major American airline to sign onto the code. However, Rivard has had difficulty finding broader industry buy-in as well as funding for her group’s efforts.

One of the reasons for industry hesitation, she says, is that companies do not want to be associated with child sex trafficking, even if they’re doing something helpful. “They’re concerned about associating their brand with the issue of child trafficking. I pitched it to them as child protection. But they didn’t buy it,” she says of one airline.

Associating the company name with child trafficking was something that Carlson Companies, Inc., which owns numerous hotel chains, was concerned about as well, according to recent congressional testimony by Carlson Vice President Deborah Cundy. However, Carlson did eventually sign onto the code and has since received positive feedback from stakeholders.

A more disheartening possibility, says Rivard, is that airlines may not want to lose the money from human traffickers’ tickets or that airlines may be concerned about upsetting organized crime groups funding human trafficking.

On a separate front, the Anaheim (California) Police Department won a federal grant last year to battle the human trafficking problem by trying to help young victims trafficked into prostitution.

The department is a participant in the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative, which targets underage prostitutes. The Anaheim police are reaching out to the trafficked individuals and providing them with help and social services instead of treating them like criminals. According to Sergeant Craig Friesen, the department is focusing on two areas in Orange County, as well as on those advertising prostitution services online.

Friesen says that through the grant, the department has partnered with Community Services Programs, Inc., and various other groups and nonprofits that help prostitution and trafficking victims by offering housing, clothing, and job training options. Police hope that the girls will help the police put the pimps and traffickers behind bars.

Arresting prostitutes and treating them as criminals was not working.

The program seems to be making progress. The department set a goal of arresting one pimp this year and had already arrested 11 by midyear. “[Trafficking victims] are more apt to help us, because they see that we’re not just in it to put a case on them,” says Friesen.