President Obama has proclaimed January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month to recognize the vital role we can all play in eliminating all forms of human trafficking. And as we begin a new year, we also mark the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, a powerful reminder to rededicate ourselves to bringing an end to slavery and human trafficking. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked in countries around the world, including the United States.
Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor and unfortunately is a lucrative industry. It has been identified as the fastest growing criminal industry in the world and it is second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable illegal business in the world.
Each year, thousands of human trafficking victims are not permitted to leave upon arrival at their destination. They are held against their will through acts of coercion and forced to work or provide services to the trafficker or others. The work or services may include anything from bonded or forced labor to commercialized sexual exploitation; and unfortunately often include children.
Fortunately as a Union and individuals in the airline industry we are in a position to make a difference. As we all know, Flight Attendants are first responders and the last line of defense, and we're also keenly aware of the activities of the passengers on our flights. Part of our training is the identification and procedures involved when we encounter a suspicious situation or person, but additional and specific training is necessary.
This past March, AFA was invited by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to participate in an initiative to involve aviation employees in the fight against the human trafficking epidemic. This program is a part of the DHS Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) "Blue Lighting" initiative.
Human trafficking is defined as:
- The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person by force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery; or
- Sex trafficking, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion-or the person induced to perform such acts is under the age of 18.
The CBP agrees with us and believes Flight Attendants are uniquely positioned to identify human traffickers and assist their victims. Flight crews are skilled observers and with the appropriate training, they can be the frontline against trafficking. Along with AFA's help, Blue Lightning is planning to roll out a training program tailored for Flight Attendants who fly U.S. bound International flying. Once the training has been developed AFA and DHS will solicit and encourage all commercial airlines to participate in this fight against trafficking.
To learn more about human trafficking, how to identify victims, and report suspected cases of human trafficking, please visit www.dhs.gov/bluecampaign or visit Facebook page facebook.com/bluecampaign.