On an Alaska Airlines flight bound for San Francisco, a flight attendant noticed something odd. While on a routine walk through the cabin, she came across a young girl who looked rather unwell. She was disheveled, bruised, and rather frightened. Seated next to the girl was an older gentleman, well-dressed and seemingly at ease. The attendant, Shelia Frederick, instantly became concerned.
Without any real training, Shelia had the gut instinct that something was wrong. Especially after the girl looked right at her.
“(Her eyes) fixed on me and I knew…I needed to help her.”
Unfortunately, identifying when someone looks like they need help is one of the things that attendants haven’t had any support on. Especially when it comes to human trafficking. It is very difficult, after all, to believe that you are seeing what you’re seeing, and, if you can, you should take action. Shelia was able to understand right away what she was up against, and rose to the occasion.
Placing a note next to a pen and paper in the bathroom, Frederick went back to the girl and mouthed “go to the bathroom” when the gentleman next to her was distracted. The girl did as instructed, and when Shelia went back to check, she found a note saying “I need help.” Alerting the captain, Shelia did what was in her power to change the situation.
When the airplane arrived at its destination, the gentleman was arrested, and the young girl taken into protective custody. Turns out that she had been kidnapped for almost two months before Frederick came across her in the airplane. She was sent home to her family, and has been in therapy to help readjust back to her life.
But what about Shelia? And all the other attendants out there who encounter more and more incidents like this every year? Nancy Rivard, a former flight attendant, created an organization to address these questions in 2009. Called Ambassadors International, Rivard now works with US Customs officials and Border Protection to bring awareness to the cause. And train attendants.
She is a bit disappointed that the training isn’t industry-wide, as of yet, but there are more and more airlines who are noticing that this is an issue of great importance. Frederick has joined the Ambassadors, and since then has received much greater depth on how to help victims of trafficking. “I tell people to be aware of their surroundings,” she says. “There are so many warning signs. Look closely.”
With a rise in human trafficking stories from around the world, Ambassadors International will hopefully find their way into more and more airline’s line-up for attendant training. It is possible, that with more experience and knowledge, other attendants will be able to identify victims that they come across on flights, and follow the right procedures, just like Frederick did, to held aide them. Each time that happens, and a perpetrator is caught, there’s one more stop towards stopping this horrible type of crime from occurring again.
This article was inspired by this one here.