Homeland Security Human Trafficking

Fighting Back Against Human Trafficking

In recognition that FBOs can serve as a gateway for human trafficking, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on training videos that can help aviation businesses to remain on the alert for such activity. NATA general counsel and COO Tim Obitts discussed those efforts on Tuesday as the association kicked off its 2019 NATA Aviation Leadership Conference. The two-day meeting gathered the association’s leadership, who received updates from Capitol Hill, the insurance industry, regulators, industry leaders, and analysts, among others.

Keynoting the opening luncheon was Philip Langford, president, North America, for the International Justice Mission (IJM), which has waged a global battle against trafficking. Langford painted a picture of some 40 million men, women, and children trapped in slavery, whether through forced labor or prostitution, in what amounts to a $150 billion business.

“The brutality is real…It is more vast, more brutal than at any time in history,” Langford told conference attendees. But he also offered a message of hope, saying the activity is more stoppable than ever before, particularly when government scrutiny increases and the risks increase for the traffickers. While the vast majority of trafficking occurs in less-developed nations where police and government intervention is minimal, it is a global problem, he said.

DHS already has been working with commercial airports on awareness, and training for human trafficking is a requirement in Part 135. But Obitts worries that not all Part 135 operators are aware of those requirements or might participate unsuspectingly. He noted that many of these cases might involve piston airplanes, which use small, uncontrolled airports in rural airports to transport victims.

IJM is collaborating with the Polaris Project on a mapping initiative to track the paths and activities of trafficking. It also has been working with governments to turn the tide in locations where the police have remained hands-off, or worse, have even been complicit in trafficking activity, Langford said.

He underscored the importance of those efforts, noting that in the Philippines city of Cebu, trafficking dropped 79 percent within four years because of stepped-up government intervention. Subsequent efforts resulted in a 75 percent drop in Manila. “When the risks go up, [traffickers] get out of the business. They are there to make money, not go to jail,” Langford said.

He noted the lies, threats, and intimidation traffickers engage in to lure their victims—mostly poor and in desperate situations—into slavery. Langford’s initial exposure was in India, to save girls from brothels. “My wife and I were swept away by the mission,” he said.

His first case, however, involved a family enslaved at a rice mill. Local authorities initially were uninterested in addressing the issue, but after Langford convinced a local official to go visit it, the view changed. There, a man was crumpled on his knees behind barbed wire and crying out to the official for help. The rice mill owner would repeatedly stab him with an elongated sewing needle to make him an example. “Now there is no question what the local official’s number-one priority is,” Langford said.

He showed other examples of victims, including freed former slaves who had had their right hands cut off after an earlier escape attempt. In North America, trafficking is occurring in plain sight, he said, pointing to massage parlors found in strip malls.

His advice to the attendees was simply to pay attention to activity that does not seem legitimate and follow instincts. But Langford warned that finding potential victims through airports might be difficult because they can be hard to detect or they might not understand that they are about to step into an enslaved situation.