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Sunshine Airport Team Members Being Trained to Help Spot Human Trafficking Victims

This time last year, right before the Super Bowl, Florida State Senator Lauren Book penned a compelling opinion piece for the Sun Sentinel about the growing problem of human traffickers in Florida.  The state is ranked third in the nation, with a per capita rate behind only Mississippi and Nevada.  As we once again celebrate Super Bowl, we are reminded of the importance of fighting back against this tragic issue of human abuse.

“South Florida is at the top of the charts for trafficking in the state,” she wrote, adding that “human trafficking is a $32 billion industry for organized crime in the United States.”

According to the International Labor Organization, an estimated 27 million people are currently being held as modern-day slaves. A training video produced by the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), states, “human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world and nearly 60 to 70 percent of victims pass through an airport at some point during their exploitation.” These victims average in age between 11 and 14 and come from all walks of life.

“Prevention and eradication begin with education,” stressed Senator Book. State laws, awareness in the classroom, a victim’s hotline and other work by the statewide Human Trafficking Task Force are examples of important steps.

At Sunshine, we are working with the Fort Lauderdale International Airport to make sure our employees are fully trained about this issue and taught how to spot possible victims. 

“Having our team prepared with this awareness is a small part that we can do to support our customers and the overall effort to help stop this horrible crime,” said Stalin Flores, Sunshine’s project manager at the airport. 

The AAAE video helps to dispel the myth that human trafficking only affects low income or homeless youth when in fact youth of all races and economic backgrounds can be swept up in this tragic web, where victims have a life expectancy of seven years or less.

The video provides tips for identifying a potential victim using the acronym, DEAR.  Does the young person dress like a typical kid their age, act with a normal energy level (e.g. most teens are excited about traveling and are happy and high energy), seem to be traveling with someone of an appropriate age (e.g. like a parent or grandparent) and does the person with the appear to be a parent or relative?  Victims are often tired and confused, and even unnaturally submissive to the person with whom they are traveling.

Airport staff are encouraged to observe, record the details they see and report anything suspicious to authorities. A flyer distributed by the International Airport Transport Association (IATA) promotes hashtag #eyesopen and encourages airport workers to look for such signs as:

  • Disorientation or confusion or signs of mental or physician abuse
  • A person who is fearful, timid or submissive and avoids eye contact
  • The person defers to the traveling partner to speak for him or her
  • Someone who doesn’t seem to have freedom to move as they want or carry their own documents

Early detection is key to rescuing youth from human trafficking and saving a life.

“We are committed to supporting the airport and the airport industry’s important initiatives in this area and working with our teams to be alert, informed and prepared to report any suspicious people or activities,” added Flores.