The holiday season is a time of counting our blessings; it is also when many of us are most moved to share those blessings with others through volunteering or charitable giving to philanthropic organizations. While these activities are always valuable, when it comes to human trafficking it is even more important to make a practice of staying alert and aware of our surroundings as we go about our daily business. This is especially true during the holiday season, when we are spending more time in crowds and in places that serve as hubs for both grooming and transporting victims.
Malls, for example, have long been gathering places for kids after school and on the weekends – something traffickers are well aware of. In fact, one of the most common ways they lure girls into a trafficking situation is by complimenting their looks and offering them modeling jobs. That said, they also approach boys with offers of employment, which is especially appealing during the holiday season when so many people want to earn extra money. As you pop in and out of stores, stressing about what to get your mother or the friend who has everything, remind yourself to pause, look around, and notice your fellow shoppers. Is there a person who seems somehow out of place talking to a group of kids, maybe handing out business cards? Does a girl look uncomfortable during a conversation, or appear to be led away from the crowd?
The airport is another place where traffickers conduct business, though here they can be even trickier to spot. If you’ve ever flown during Thanksgiving or Christmas, you know well how chaotic these places are. Everyone is so busy scrambling to find their boarding passes or lost luggage against a backdrop of piped-in holiday music and PA announcements. They can easily miss a scared or lost-looking young woman traveling alone, and that is exactly what traffickers are counting on. Many trafficked persons are lured to other cities or countries online, again with promises of lucrative jobs. They are also often given “cover stories” by the traffickers to explain their travel to customs agents or other officials. Of course, traffickers also use intimidation tactics (i.e. threatening to harm their families back home) to keep the victims from revealing the situation.
Remember, a primary goal of traffickers, wherever they operate, is to keep their victims hidden in plain sight. The best thing, therefore, that we can do is look for those sometimes subtle signs that all is not well and alert mall or airport security. Oftentimes we must go with our gut, for example, if the person we’re suspicious of is a motherly-looking woman or otherwise does not fit our idea of a criminal. Indeed, sometimes we might be mistaken, and that’s okay. It is better to be wrong than to let an innocent person slip through the cracks.