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Curbing trafficking problems
March 13, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Heather Murtagh/Daily Journal U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier speaks to more than 100 people during an anti-human trafficking training held for airport personnel at San Francisco International Airport Monday morning.

Heather Murtagh/Daily Journal U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier speaks to more than 100 people during an anti-human trafficking training held for airport personnel at San Francisco International Airport Monday morning.

Human trafficking often includes air travel which is why San Francisco International Airport personnel along with local law enforcement were invited to a training session Monday covering warning signs as well as how to respond.

Sex trafficking is considered the third-largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. An estimated 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders and 100,000 to 300,000 domestic minors are forced into sexually slavery within the United States annually. Those in the human trafficking business often move the victim which is why U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo and David Palmatier of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security launched a training for airport employees Monday at SFO.

"If you see something, say something. In the end, our intuition is a powerful measurement of what’s not right and what is wrong,” said Speier.

Speier explained the practice of human trafficking continues to grow since the product — abducted people — can be resold. Also, the penalty for trafficking people are less harsh than selling drugs, she said.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that trafficking — the modern day slavery of the 21st century — not only exists but is thriving both domestically and throughout the world. Disrupting traffickers’ unhindered access to air travel through training of airline and airport personnel is an essential step in closing the door on this horrific crime,” she said.

Airline Ambassadors International, the only independent charity of the overall airline industry, led the training program Monday for airline, airport and hotel employees, as a front-line of defense.

Deborah Quigley, United Airlines customer service operations and member of Airline Ambassadors, explained airports are a natural way for human traffickers to move people around. As a result, she said employees in the airport should know the warning signs.

There are many signs that someone may be a victim: they are unsure of where they are going, afraid of people in uniforms, claim to be an adult with incorrect documentation, dressed inappropriately, may appear to be drugged or malnourished and not free to talk for themselves or use the bathroom.

Should you notice a person in such a situation, Quigley said not to try to rescue the person or confront the trafficker. Instead, alert airline personnel who can let the pilot know. Ultimately, authorities will be identified and often airport personnel will be asked to discretely identify the person in question.

Nancy Rivard, an American Airlines flight attendant and founder of Airline Ambassadors, shared many stories during the training about trafficking being stopped simply by noticing small details like a person with a baby who was traveling without a diaper bag or a man with a child who didn’t know the little one’s name or age.

Sandy Dhuyvetter, TravelTalk Media and AAI member, explained many cases of human trafficking can be stopped as long as people speak up. Dhuyvetter added, that as those looking to prevent trafficking get smarter, so will the individuals wanting to continue their business.

Petra Hensley, human trafficking survivor advocate with her own nonprofit Sojka Foundation, shared her story of being a 16-year-old in the Czech Republic who was kidnapped while walking to see a friend. She was beaten, bound, held without access to food and water and raped repeatedly before escaping. Hensley described how a girl who was also there was shot on her second day of being held.

The experience gave Hensley a desire to speak up against human trafficking. She’s hoping through education to change the attitude of people who notice something might be wrong but don’t speak up.

To report possible cases of human trafficking call the Homeland Security tipline at (866) 347-2423. For more information about Airline Ambassadors visit

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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