Victims in Plain Sight

By: Abigail Domingo

 

For some trafficking victims there are times when they see a chance of freedom, hoping one question is asked: Do you need help?

Victims of human trafficking may have a small opening to receive help but are too afraid, in fear of retaliation from their captors. Often times they come in contact with transportation and medical personnel who are in unique positions to identify victims of human trafficking, and get them out of captivity. Here are a few professions where provding training can make the difference in saving victims in plain sight.

 

Flight Attendants

Human trafficking victims are transported from place to place to make more profits for their traffickers. This makes airports a hub for human trafficking activity. A young girl was saved on board a flight to San Francisco after Shelia Fedrick, a flight attendant, recognized the signs of human trafficking and alerted the pilot. The young girl was dressed differently from her male associate, he spoke for her, and she avoided eye contact. All familiar signs of human trafficking. Fedrick is a member of Airline Ambassadors which advocates for training to spot the signs of human trafficking on all U.S airlines. More organizations are stepping in to combat human trafficking. Dozens of flight attendants who have worked for over a decade have come forward with stories regarding human trafficking. They wished they had known what to do or about the subject, and they now advocate for proper training for all airlines.

 

Doctors

A young girl was treated in the ER for vaginal bleeding and abdominal pain, but doctors failed to notice the older man who had an obvious control over the girl, and she was let go. During captivity an estimated 88% of victims saw a physician or some sort of medical care during captivity, and 63 percent had been treated in an emergency department. This places doctors in a position to identify the signs of mistreatment, malnourishment, or mental signs of human trafficking. There are too many cases where victims are overlooked for obvious signs of human trafficking and instead are handed back to their captors. Medical schools are taking notice of the opportunity physicians have to identify victims and have been implementing classes on the matter. At the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, for example, second-year students work with faculty physicians and nonprofit organizations on semester-long research projects that focus on identifying victims, barriers to health care for vulnerable populations, and an electronic screening tool for human trafficking.

The signs doctors should look for are the lack of ID, signs of depression or mental issues, if the companion is answering questions or is seen as controlling, and down playing serious injuries.  

 

Uber Drivers

Transportation workers are often numb to anything, they’ve seen it all, but Uber drivers are using their own vehicle, and are new to the profession. A former trafficking victim recalled always using a taxi service to take her to motels, malls, and clubs, always accompanied by a handler. Uber is the new taxi service where it’s easier and cheaper to get a ride, and transport victims. An incident in CA prompted the rescue of a teenage runaway who was trafficked for sex. The Uber driver noticed a strange conversation between the young girl and the two older women who were giving her strange tips on how to interact with a man. The driver waited in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn after he dropped them off, and called the police. Three people were arrested in connection with the girl’s captivity, and she was returned to her family.

Uber, in light of this incident, used this as an awareness tool, and has increased updates regarding human trafficking to drivers. However, it takes more than a few updates to understand human trafficking. Uber and other taxi services should provide training to identify potential victims of human trafficking. The Uber driver called the police, but what if he hadn’t? It could have created a potentially dangerous situation and hurt himself and the victim. Proper training could not only help the victims, but the drivers who learn to spot the signs, and call for help.

 

Toll Booth Workers

Alicia Kozakiewicz, a survivor of human trafficking and founder of the Alicia Project retells her chance of hope in the form of a toll booth worker. She describes getting taken from her home, and hoping the attendant in the booth would look at her through the car door. To notice how helpless and broken she was, but nothing happened, and her moment passed. Today she advocates for airport personnel to be trained in identifying the signs of human trafficking. Just like the flight attendant that saved her.

Penndot is taking the initiative, and, in partnership with the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Truckers against Trafficking, will train employees working at drivers license centers on the signs of human trafficking. Rest stops, bus stops and trains stops are potential traps for victims of human trafficking and truck drivers and other transportation personnel can come in contact with traffickers and victims. In 2013 a partnership between Amtrak, Department of Transportation and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) formed to combat human trafficking in the transportation system. All employees were trained to identify victims, and call the authorities and local law enforcement for help.

 

Teachers

Students spend at least eight hours a day at school. They spend more time with their teachers than they do with their parents/guardians. It is essential to teach the people who are with potential victims of human trafficking about the signs and tips. Between January 2011 and December 2014, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received over 600 phone calls from educators and school officials regarding human trafficking-related issues. Teachers can receive the proper training and then educate their students about the dangers of human trafficking. A study shows that traffickers are more likely to target schools for potential victims. Legislators are pushing to include human trafficking into school curriculums across the US. Some states have already started to teach students about the signs of human trafficking and have seen results. In Indio, CA two students alerted authorities about a woman on Facebook who tried to recruit them for prostitution after watching a presentation on human trafficking.

Not only should students be taught, but parents/guardians, as well. Schools have the ability to reach out to their communities and get people involved in the fight to stop human trafficking.

 

Hospitality Professionals

Whether it’s a housekeeper forced to work long hours with minimal pay or the young girl forced to sell herself at the hotel bar, the hospitality industry is welcoming human trafficking inside. During 2005-2015, 1,800 victims of 1,800 cases were identified in hotels. Traffickers often take advantage of the privacy and anonymity offered by the hospitality industry. They can operate discreetly because staff and guests may not know the signs of human trafficking. Traffickers rent rooms at hotels or motels and force their captives to use the rooms for commercial sex. A sign that this is occurring is multiple people using the room and a do not disturb sign always in use. The U.S government has plans to combat the issue with the Blue Campaign. The DHS, working alongside law enforcement, government officials, and private organizations has created a toolkit to combat human trafficking. The toolkit contains tips and resources to distribute to hospitality staff with different tips for each category of staff.
More information can be found at www.dhs.gov/bluecampaign

 

Altogether, professionals in many fields, can keep their eye out to potentially save the life of a victim of human trafficking. Do your part and help with the fight to end human trafficking in eastern North Carolina and beyond! If you are a professional who wants to have your staff trained, please contact us at azanique@encstophumantrafficking.org

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