San Jose

To Catch a Trafficker: Flight Attendants Train Before Super Bowl

Airline personnel have been given the daunting task of spotting human traffickers in the crowds of football fans descending on the Bay Area for the big game. But they have an ally among them: a flight attendant who happens to be a sex trafficking survivor.

“I was a young mother – desperate,” Donna Lynne Hubbard began her powerful story in front of a crowd of 200 colleagues during a human trafficking training at San Francisco International Airport.

If you have flown American Airlines, you may have noticed Hubbard making her way down the aisle. The former Miss Black Washington DC has a bright smile despite her harrowing past. She says as a young, single mother, she was dating a professional baseball player, who took her to a party where she was drugged.

“I woke up with a man on top of me who wasn’t him and men standing along the wall to take their turn,” Hubbard said, explaining what led to what she calls a “downward spiral.” Hubbard says she was eventually sold to MS-13, a well-known Central American gang with ties to the Bay Area, to be used for sex for seven years.

Monday, on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Hubbard is telling her colleagues what should raise a red flag as the Bay Area prepares for a crush of fans and potential criminals arriving for the Super Bowl.

“This [training] will demonstrate to human traffickers that the Bay Area is not a place to go,” SFO’s Doug Yakel said, explaining the airport could experience an influx of up to 175,000 more travelers in one day.

Michele Krick, a flight attendant and co-director of the human trafficking awareness program at Airline Ambassadors, says she sees suspicious activity on her flights.

“Almost every flight that I talk to crew members, somebody has a story about a child where something didn’t seem right,” Krick said.

Airline workers are on the front lines of the fight against human trafficking, according to the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition’s Betty Ann Boeving. With no alert system, it’s easier and faster for traffickers to move victims by plane, particularly during big events like the Super Bowl when airports are inundated with travelers.

The Department of Homeland Security is asking workers to watch out for unaccompanied minors oftentimes carrying few or no personal items, are not in control of their own IDs, or seem anxious, disoriented, or unsure of their destination.

As for the traffickers, there’s no specific look.

“But all of the victims have that same look. That same helpless, what do I do? How do I get out?” Hubbard said.

Similar training sessions are expected at Oakland and San Jose airports later this week.

If passengers see suspicious activity, they are encouraged not to confront a potential trafficker because it could make things worse for victims. Instead, call these tip lines:

U.S. Department of Homeland Security: 1-866-DHS-2-ICE
National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1-888-3737-888

Airline Ambassadors also has an iPhone app available to enable airline workers and the flying public to upload videos from their smartphones and report live suspected cases of human trafficking.

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