Airlines' role grows in war on U.S. sex trafficking

Thu Oct 7, 2010 6:46pm EDT
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By Mickey Goodman

ATLANTA (Reuters Life!) - Airline passenger Deborah Sigmund noticed something strange about the man and boy who ran up late to catch a US Airways flight last December from Washington to Palm Beach, Florida.

When staff at the gate asked the man for the boy's name, he had to rifle through papers for an answer. On board, Sigmund quietly asked the boy why he was going to Florida.

"I thought I was going to North Carolina," he said.

Sigmund said she alerted the aircrew who radioed ahead to authorities about a possible case of child trafficking. Her quick wits helped her spot what authorities later told her was a likely case of a child abducted for use in pornography.

Her intervention is evidence of a growing effort by grass-roots organizations in the hotel and airline industries to back up the work of governments and international law enforcement in fighting human trafficking.

But Sigmund had a head start. As founder of non-profit Innocents at Risk, she had set up a training program to help airline staff and the hospitality industry spot signs of trafficking.

She has worked with Nancy Rivard of Airline Ambassadors International (AAI), a group that has expanded its traditional humanitarian mission to help beat the trafficking scourge.

"We are in a unique position to play a critical role in teaching airline personnel to identify traffickers and report them," said Rivard, who worked for 30 years for American Airlines and founded the AAI group.   Continued...

<p>A passengers walks past empty counters in a file photo. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>