Recently, human trafficking has been making both national and global headlines. In February, flight attendant Shelia Fedrick turned the spotlight on the reality of trafficking on American public transportation after identifying, and quickly acting to stop, a trafficking situation on her Alaska Airlines flight.
Movement is inherently tied to the crime of human trafficking. While an individual can be trafficked without crossing any borders at all, this is often not the case. Traffickers have mastered using the movement of individuals to their advantage. They move, through various modes and methods, to avoid detection by law enforcement. Traffickers move to keep those in their control disoriented, isolated and obedient. And, despite misconceptions, they often move in plain sight.
While various types of transportation are used by traffickers in almost every country in the world, in America, there are two main industries that are commonly used in the trafficking of individuals: trucking and air travel.
A Hidden Reality: Trafficking at Truck Stops
It may be shocking to learn that the truck stops we drive past on the interstate everyday could be common places for human trafficking, and specifically, sex trafficking. While trafficking has also been reported at state-run rest stops and welcome centers, commercial truck stops are more often used for the trafficking of women and girls. Privately owned stops are typically more remote and have less of a law enforcement presence. Here, because of an almost entirely male customer base, trafficking occurs most often through pimp-controlled trafficking and commercial front brothels (often disguised as massage parlors). While not every truck driver purchases sex, the culture at many truck stops has adapted to accommodate these actions. Often, interested buyers can flash their headlights and use code words, such as “commercial” or “free ride” over the radio to demonstrate their interest. During these hidden exchanges, men can pay as little as $25-$100 per sex act. Trafficked women and girls at these locations are typically hesitant to involve law enforcement for fear that they will be arrested for prostitution.
Trafficking By Air
Trafficking and exploitation is not simply limited to our nation’s roads, however. Many more individuals are also trafficked through commercial airports every day. While truck stops are often used as destinations for transactions to take place, airports are typically a point to pass through. Still, they are a critical point for fighting trafficking, and efforts are being made to equip airport and nearby hotel staff members on the potential warning signs. One common mistake people make is assuming trafficking victims are mostly from foreign countries. In fact, over 80% of those forced into prostitution every year in the United States are from the United States. It is important to look for youth and young adults who exhibit anxiety and fear, who are not in control of their own documents or behavior, show signs of physical abuse and malnourishment, or have inconsistent information about where they are going or who they are traveling with. While these are not conclusive signs of trafficking, they are common traits to trafficking victims around the world. Further, the traffickers themselves may insist on speaking for those they are traveling with, show angry or manipulative behavior or tendencies, and pay for large transactions with cash. Airports may be one of the only times that trafficked individuals are in such a casual, public environment — an environment that their trafficker does not control.
While airlines, law enforcement and the trucking community have large roles to play in the fight against human trafficking, everyday citizens have a role too. Being informed about trafficking, and how it affects your community, is the first step. Traffickers prey on vulnerability… This means that trafficking is not limited to a race, age group, or socioeconomic level. Knowing this, staying educated about the warning signs, and quickly responding to involve the authorities in cases that could be trafficking are exactly the steps Fedrick took on her flight in February, and exactly the steps that rescued a young trafficking survivor from further abuse.
Stay aware and informed, and you could make the difference in someone’s freedom the next time you are traveling!
Make your commitment to fight for the freedom of all.