Anti-trafficking advocates and Bay Area prosecutors and congresspersons said Tuesday that airports are an important new front in combating human trafficking and rescuing victims.
Speaking at a news conference at the Oakland International Airport, Betty Ann Boeving of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition said airport personnel, airline workers and passengers need to be aware that human traffickers use airports to transport their victims around the world.
Boeving said cases have been documented in which traffickers have misrepresented themselves as sports coaches, employers, and family members of trafficked victims.
She said airport personnel at ticket counters, gates and other areas of airport operations are in a unique position to identify potential victims and report potential incidents to law enforcement agencies, in order to rescue victims and bring traffickers to justice.
"Airline employees need to send a message to human traffickers that they're not welcome to do business in the Bay Area," Boeving said.
The news conference was followed by a training session for airport staff to teach them how to recognize and address suspected human trafficking at the airport.
Similar training was conducted at the San Francisco airport in March 2012 and at the San Jose airport in January, Boeving said.
Deborah Flint, the Oakland airport's director of aviation, said, "Human trafficking is a global problem that needs local solutions. We can end human trafficking in our region if we know what to look for."
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said human trafficking is "the fastest-growing criminal enterprise globally" and described it as "modern day slavery."
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said, "Sex trafficking and human trafficking is big business in this country and region and it's high time that we got serious about eradicating it."
Speier said the message that needs to be sent to airport workers and airline employees and passengers is, "If you see something, say something" to the appropriate authorities.
Boeving said people who see something suspicious should call the trafficking hotline at 1-888-3737-888.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said that in addition to forcing people to engage in the sex trade, human traffickers force people to work in agriculture and other lines of work and also keep them in debt bondage.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said the campaign to raise awareness at airports and on airplanes "is a tremendous asset in fighting human trafficking."
O'Malley said, "In our neighborhoods and our businesses we need to be the eyes and ears of law enforcement and humanity" in combating trafficking.
Boeving said, "People need to know what human trafficking victims look like at an airport."
She said possible clues are people who aren't dressed appropriately, such as wearing warm weather clothes when traveling to a cold weather destination, and passengers who don't know their destination.
"Airline employees are essential" to helping fight human trafficking, Boeving said.