Human trafficking has over the years become a global and multi-million dollar enterprise. As one of the world’s fastest growing criminal industries, the trade and its signs are largely unspoken. For instance, did you know that according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), nearly 25 million people are currently living in modern day slavery? That’s roughly the population of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix combined. And while most people assume it’s an issue affecting only other countries, a surprisingly large portion exists within the United States. For example, 83% of people forced into prostitution in the U.S. are from the U.S.
So why is a business travel management blog discussing human trafficking? As with any global business, international and domestic travel is necessary and usually frequent. In fact, the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that 60% of victims – that’s roughly 15 million people – are transported across international borders. This makes transportation hubs; like airports, bus stations, and train stations, actual hotbeds for human trafficking. It unfortunately also often the last time a victim is seen before being forced into the dark underbelly of human enslavement. Once the victim gets off the plane or bus, they tend to become almost impossible to trace and rescue.
This depressing and scary fact actually provides business travelers a unique advantage. As frequent travelers, they cross paths with virtually all walks of life on a business trip, and could become a huge proponent for stopping human trafficking. By being aware of the signs, and the correct outlets to report, this demographic may very well save lives. Signs of human trafficking are actually pretty easy to recognize. So easy in fact, that without being aware of the signs, they often go unnoticed. Paying attention to anything out of the ordinary, and knowing the actions to take if you suspect something could very easily save a life.
How to spot human trafficking in airports:
- Person is not dressed appropriately for their travel destination. Trafficking victims are often wearing clothes that seem out of place. They may not be the correct sizes, appear disheveled, or unprepared for the destination. In fact, they may be carrying very little luggage or no luggage at all. Also, it is likely the people he/she is traveling with is more well dressed and appropriately for the destination.
- May look malnourished, has bruises or other wounds, or ravenous appetite. In addition to their clothes, their overall appearance may be distressing.
- Traveling with someone else or people who seem to hold all the control. A telltale sign is two or more people traveling together, but don’t seem to be related or even friends. The trafficker is likely more confident, even controlling. The suspected victim may be followed if they move about the cabin or the airport.
- Can’t provide information on their location, destination, or flight information. Victims are often not told where they are, where they’re going, or even what might happen next. They may not even know the name of the person they are traveling with.
- Communication seems scripted. If you talk to the person in question, their answers sound scripted or lacks consistency. Traffickers sometimes coach their victims to say certain things to avoid suspicion. Fear and intimidation are two ways traffickers hold their power. They may try to avoid any interaction and defer communication to the possible trafficker.
- May have a tattoo with a bar code or male’s name.Many people have tattoos, so this tip is not always a sure sign. Traffickers or pimps often tattoo or brand their own names or the word ‘Daddy’ on their victims. Usually this is a sign to show dominance. Other indicating tattoos maybe dollar signs or cuss words.
What frequent business travelers should do if they suspect human trafficking:
- First and foremost – do not be a hero. Do not interact with them directly or try to rescue the suspected victim. The safest way to help human trafficking victims is to report it to the correct channels and as much information as possible.
- As a growing epidemic, most airline employees and flight attendants have gone through human trafficking detection training. Tell a flight attendant or security guard your suspicions and they will alert the authorities.
- Only if you can do so safely, take a picture of the possible victim and trafficker.
- Write down descriptions of the possible victim and trafficker. Note any significant tattoos, scars or body marks.
- Report your concerns to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Keep the number in your phone so it can be easily accessed if needed – 1-888-373-7888.
If interested in learning more, read this great resource on how to help victims of human trafficking.