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Portions of the following article were originally posted on NBC News, by Kalhan Rosenblatt.


Shelia Fedrick said she instinctively felt something was wrong the moment she saw the girl with greasy blonde hair sitting in the window seat of aisle 10 on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco.

“The girl looked like she had been through pure hell,” said Fedrick, 49, a flight attendant working for Alaska Airlines. Fedrick guessed that the girl was about 14 or 15 years old, traveling with a notably well-dressed older man. The stark contrast between the two set off alarm bells in her head.

Fedrick tried to engage them in conversation, but the man became defensive, she said.

“I left a note in one of the bathrooms,” Fedrick said. “She wrote back on the note and said ‘I need help.'”

Fedrick says she called the pilot and told him about the passengers, and when the plane landed, police were waiting in the terminal.

Airline Ambassadors

It’s that kind of intuition that former flight attendant Nancy Rivard, founder of Airline Ambassadors, is trying to instill in airline staff across the nation as she trains them on how to spot the signs of human trafficking.

Related: How To Identify (And Rescue) A Victim Of Sex Trafficking

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 2,000 human traffickers and identified 400 victims last year. Since 2009 Airline Ambassadors has been working to make sure that when a trafficker flies with a victim, the flight crew is trained to spot and report them.

Image: Shelia Fedrick
Shelia Fedrick Courtesy of Shelia Fedrick

Recently, Rivard and several of her colleagues flew to Houston to meet with approximately 100 flight attendants who volunteered for the Airline Ambassadors training session on how to recognize human trafficking. Over two days, former victims related their experiences to the flight attendants. In-flight crews were taught to look for passengers who appear frightened, ashamed or nervous; people traveling with someone who doesn’t appear to be a parent or relative; and children or adults who appear bruised or battered. They’re also taught to notice if someone insists on speaking for the alleged victim, doesn’t let them out of their sight or becomes defensive when questioned. Victims sometimes appear drugged.

Learning To Pull Back

Airline Ambassador flight attendants say one of the hardest lessons to learn is to pull back when they suspect a victim is on board.

“We tell people not to try to rescue because you can endanger the victim and yourself,” Rivard said.

Flight attendants call the pilot when they suspect a human trafficking victim is on board. The pilot then calls ahead to the flights’ destination where authorities are notified to meet the plane.

“One part of our training, and it’s the difficult part, but once we report it, we’re supposed to let it go,” says Andrea Hobart, 36, an Airline Ambassador trainer and flight attendant with Alaska Airlines. “Even though it’s hard to let it go, you transfer it into the hands of the authorities and they’ll pursue the case.”

Image: Flight attendants trainer gather for a two-day seminar held by Airline Ambassadors International in Houston, Texas.
Flight attendants trainer gather for a two-day seminar held by Airline Ambassadors International in Houston, Texas. Courtesy of Nancy Rivard

Airline Ambassadors has also taken the fight to Congress to push for regular, required flight attendant training on all airlines in the United States.

Related: This New App Helps You Stop Sex Trafficking While You Travel

Airline Ambassador Sandra Fiorini, 69, testified before Congress in 2010 about trafficking she witnessed during her 42-year career as a flight attendant with American Airlines, including girls she suspected were trafficked after flying from Moscow to the United States under the guise of becoming actresses and models.

Last year, the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 implemented training of flight attendants to spot potential trafficking victims.

But Rivard and Fiorini continue to lobby Congress for better awareness training for flight attendants.

Until that happens, Rivard will keep traveling across the country teaching flight attendants how to be the eyes in the sky protecting human trafficking victims.

What YOU Can Do

Not all of us are flight attendants, but each of us can do our part to know the signs of trafficking and speak up. It all starts with knowing what to look for. Websites like the Polaris Project, Hope For Justice, Stop The Traffik, and the US Department of Health and Human Services all have extensive lists of red flags, and being familiar with them can help all of us identify and help trafficking victims even if we don’t anticipate encountering them.

The reality is that prostitution, sex trafficking, and porn are more closely linked than society would believe. The truth is that sex trafficking is a global issue, and it is only made worse by pornography. Any form of sexual exploitation only fuels the demand for the sex trade as a whole.

Related: The Inseparable Link Between Porn And Human Trafficking

In the end, porn fuels prostitution; and porn and prostitution are the products the sex trade exists to deliver.

We fight to bring awareness to the fact that porn isn’t harmless entertainment, and the porn industry wouldn’t be where it is today without sex trafficking and prostitution.

Related5 Simple Ways You Can Fight Sex Trafficking In Your Daily Life

Knowledge is power, and being aware of the facts is an important step in decreasing the demand for sexual exploitation and porn, and helping to eliminate sex trafficking. Help spread this knowledge and SHARE this article so that others can be aware. Together, we can fight to stop the demand for sexual exploitation in society. Change begins with one, and stopping the demand starts with us.

Support UnBound Houston
In response to the huge exploitation crisis in the #1 hotspot for sex trafficking, UnBound Houston is a nonprofit organization that actively provides opportunities to inform students and citizen groups in the Houston area about the scourge of human trafficking in the city. They offer insightful, informative presentations specifically targeting three distinct audiences: school-age youth, college/young adults and adult/civic organizations to help prevent and identify sex trafficking.

Start conversations by wearing our Stop The Demand tee which highlights the link between porn and human trafficking. By taking a stand, we can make a difference. Click below to shop:

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