Airport workers to be trained to spot human trafficking

Airport and airline employees are being enlisted in an effort to spot signs of human trafficking.

As home to the world's busiest airport and host of large conventions and professional sporting events, Atlanta is a hotspot for sex trafficking of children, according to the FBI.

Atlanta's underground sex economy generates an estimated $290 million a year, the largest of the U.S. cities studied in an Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center report. A report by the Governor's Office for Children and Families estimated hundreds of girls are subject to commercial sexual exploitation in Georgia each month through street activity, Internet ads and escort services.

Those who work in the travel industry at airports, on flights and in hotels "are the eyes and ears" to recognize human trafficking, said Mary Anne Zoldak, a vice president at Maritz Travel, who spoke at a human trafficking symposium held Thursday at Georgia Tech and organized by travel industry group Skål International Atlanta.

"If you see... a number of young females walking behind one older male who looks like he's in charge and not letting anyone speak, or if you try and approach the young lady or just say hello, but they won't answer to you or they'll look at the male first before speaking to you, those are some clear signs that you might want to pay attention to, and just alert any nearby officer that something just doesn't look right," said , when Hartsfield-Jackson opened an art exhibit focused on human trafficking earlier this year.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

"This is an area of focus for the airport," said Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell. "We've been working with the law enforcement community... We've had great success in intercepting some of these traffickers at the airport."

Warning signs of human trafficking

These signs do not necessarily indicate human trafficking, "but a combination of them should be a red flag," according to Airline Ambassadors International, which provides this list in a brochure on its website.

Suspicious should arise when individuals:

• Have few or none of the usual personal items when checking in or

boarding a flight

• Are accompanied by someone who is far better dressed

• Avoid eye contact or are watchful to the point of paranoia

• Are unusually submissive to the person(s) accompanying them

• Are not allowed to speak for themselves if directly addressed, with someone

else insisting on answering or translating for them

• Do not appear to know where they are or where they are going

• Do not have the freedom to separate themselves from the person(s)

accompanying them (to use the restroom, stroll through the aircraft, etc.)

• May exhibit signs of physical abuse

• Appear to be malnourished and/or eat in-flight food ravenously

• Are evidently afraid of uniformed security personnel (being fearful of

revealing their immigration status)

• Speak of a “modeling” job or something similar without knowing who will

be meeting them upon arrival