“Hidden in plain sight” is often the phrase used to describe the crime of human trafficking. Everyday people, coming and going, need to have eyes and ears tuned in to potential human trafficking situations. These stories from our May 2017 issue of Stop Trafficking! share some of the red flags to look and listen for.
On an Uber shift
In December 2016, a routine shift for Uber driver Keith Avila turned into the rescue of a 16-year-old girl from a sex trafficking ring in Sacramento, Calif. One night Keith picked up two women and a young girl. While driving them to a Holiday Inn, he heard the women tell the teen how to interact with a man she’d meet at the hotel. “Pat him down for weapons while hugging him, and get the donation from him” first thing.
Avila dropped the women off, drove around the corner and called police. Officers arrived in minutes and arrested the two women and the man they met up with. The teen was taken into temporary housing while law enforcement located her family.
Avila knew the red flags.
At a Virginia truck stop
Just for a second, the black drape covering a window of a parked RV flew back to reveal the face of a gaunt young woman inside. Then she was jerked away and the curtain closed. The 20-year-old woman lived just outside Des Moines, where her three-week nightmare began in late 2014. She took a ride from a couple to visit relatives on the East Coast. After subjecting her to physical torture right out of a horror film, the couple advertised her on Craigslist postings as they moved from state to state. When she was rescued at a Virginia truck stop, police said she was within 48 hours of death. How was she rescued? Truck driver Kevin Kimmel saw her face in that RV window and realized, “There’s something strange going on.”
Kimmel called 911.
In the air en route to San Francisco
Sheila Fedrick instinctively felt something was wrong the moment she saw a girl with greasy blonde hair sitting in the aisle 10 window seat on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco. Alaska Airlines flight attendant Fedrick says the girl, “looked like she’d been through pure hell.” Fedrick guessed the girl was 14 or 15 years old. She was traveling with a notably well-dressed older man. It was the stark contrast between the two of them that set off an alarm for Fedrick. When the flight attendant tried to strike up a conversation the man became defensive. Fedrick left a note in one of the bathrooms. The girl wrote back on the note, “I need help.” Fedrick alerted the pilot about the passengers and when the plane landed, police were waiting in the terminal.
Fedrick’s note saved a life.
By Sr. Jean Schafer, SDS
Sr. Jean’s monthly Stop Trafficking! newsletter promotes exchange of information among U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking (USCSAHT) and other organizations that work together to abolish all forms of human trafficking. To access back issues of Stop Trafficking! go to: stopenslavement.org