Human trafficking victim saved at 30,000 feet
United States of America / Freedom Stories / 31 oct 2017
Flight attendant Shelia Fedrick’s instinct told her that something wasn’t right when she spotted a girl travelling with an older man on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco. The girl appeared uncomfortable and unwell, only about 14 or 15 years old and travelling with a well-dressed older man. When Shelia tried to engage them in conversation, the girl would not answer and the man became defensive. Shelia encouraged the girl to use the bathroom, where she had left a note asking if she needed help, and the girl replied that she did. Shelia then called the pilot and told him about the passengers, so that when the plane landed, police were waiting at the terminal. She now urges others to look out for human trafficking victims and speak out if they see anything suspicious: ‘If you see something say something, even the smallest thing.’
This kind of quick thinking and calm action is something that ‘Airline Ambassadors’ have been trying to instil in airline staff across the country. ‘Airline Ambassadors’ train flight attendants in how to spot human trafficking and what to do when they suspect someone might be being trafficked. In-flight crews are taught to look for warning-signs in passengers: those who look frightened, ashamed or nervous; people travelling with someone who doesn’t appear to be a parent or relative; and children or adults with signs of physical abuse. They are also trained to spot if someone is not being allowed to answer for themselves, or to leave the sight of the person travelling with them. Attendants say the hardest part is seeing someone who appears to be being trafficked and knowing they cannot physically approach them to intervene, so as not to endanger the victim or themselves. They are instead advised to call the pilot when they suspect human trafficking, so that the pilot can call ahead to the flight’s destination and notify the relevant authorities.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 2,000 human traffickers and identified 400 victims last year. With help from trained flight attendants and other airline staff, many more traffickers can be intercepted and prosecuted and many more victims can get the support they need.