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Signs of Human Trafficking

In 2018 4.4billion air passengers traveled on 46.1 million flights through a network of 22,000 routes providing the world’s airlines with a net profit of some $30.billion. However, 25 million of those passengers were people being trafficked illegally, raising $32.billion for that illicit industry.


Victims of Human Trafficking might have been "branded" by their 'owners.'


If trained properly then airport staff can identify possible victims of human trafficking before they board the plane, allowing for intervention. Unfortunately, this type of training, if implemented at all, is only for airport security personnel, not for all airport employees, such as restaurant workers, shop staff, and cleaners etc. who have a vital role to play in the prevention of this crime.

We often associate Human Trafficking with male criminals, yet almost 40% of those convicted globally are female, and many of them use airports. Vulnerabilities which exist within the passport control system have allowed this problem to develop, particularly with the trafficking of children.

If we could train all air and seaport staff in identifying victims of human trafficking, then we could disrupt this transportation medium.


Those responsible for compiling the following list of possible signs of human trafficking are named at the bottom:

1. A traveler's clothing

You might notice that a traveler has few or no personal items. Victims may be less well- dressed than their companions. They may be wearing clothes that are the wrong size, or are not appropriate for the weather for their destination.

2. A traveler is traveling alone, but doesn't seem to know details of who will be meeting them on arrival

A trafficker may have bought the traveler a ticket under the pretense that they have a modeling job, or something similar, awaiting them at their destination.

3. They have a tattoo with a bar code, crown, bags of money possibly the words "Daddy" or "Property of"

Many people have tattoos, so a tattoo in itself is obviously not an indicator. However, traffickers or pimps may mark their victims as a sign of ownership, so a barcode tattoo, or a tattoo saying "Daddy" or even a man's name, could be a red flag that the person is a victim.


4. They can't provide details of their departure location, destination or flight information

Traffickers employ a number of tools to avoid raising suspicion about their crime and to keep victims enslaved. Some traffickers won't tell their victims where they are, where they are being taken or what job is supposedly waiting for them. This makes it harder for them to escape.

5. Their communication seems scripted, or there are inconsistencies with their story

Sometimes traffickers will coach their victims to say certain things in public to avoid suspicion. A traveler whose story seems inconsistent or too scripted might be trying to hide the real reason for their travel and merely reciting what a trafficker has told them to say. The same applies to the suspected trafficker -- they may provide inconsistent details about the victim's name or age.

6. They can't move freely in an airport or on an airplane, or they are being controlled, closely watched or followed

People being trafficked into slavery are sometimes guarded in transit. A trafficker will try to ensure that the victim does not escape, or reach out to authorities for help.

7. They are afraid to discuss themselves around others, deferring any attempts at conversation to someone who appears to be controlling them

Fear and intimidation are two of the tools that traffickers use to control people in slavery. Traffickers often prevent victims from interacting with the public because the victim might say something that raises suspicions about their safety and freedom.

8. They seem to be afraid of uniformed security personnel

They may be fearful of revealing their immigration status. Therefore it can be worthwhile for airport officials to dress in plainclothes when approaching potential victims.

9. Child trafficking

A child being trafficked for sexual exploitation may be dressed in a sexualized manner, or seem to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

A child may appear to be malnourished and/or shows signs of physical or sexual abuse, such as bruises, scars, or cigarette burns.

This list was compiled with help from the following organizations:

  1. Airline Ambassadors International: Offers a human trafficking awareness program to educate airport staff about the problem.

  2. Polaris: Works to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

  3. Free the Slaves: Campaigns against modern slavery around the world.

  4. International Justice Mission: Works to protect the poor from violence in the developing world.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that AAI's Deborah Quigley was on the 2009 trip to Cambodia, not Nancy Rivard, as originally stated.

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