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Video shot at Reno airport asks travelers to report signs of human trafficking


Spotting human trafficking isn’t easy and requires an educated awareness, authorities say.

Until recently, airport employees had only been trained to look for other types of security threats.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport last year was one of the nation’s first to train staff on how to spot human trafficking situations and report them to authorities.

The American Association of Airport Executives has since released a 12-minute video filmed at Reno-Tahoe that shows travelers how to spot potential traffickers and victims and encourages them to alert authorities.

Richard Jay, co-chair of the Northern Nevada Sex Trafficking Task Force’s Community Outreach Working Group, said the group is in contact with various agencies and requesting they post the video on their social media pages.

Jay said anyone spotting suspicious activity at the airport is asked to pick up an airport phone.

Always err on the side of caution and never make assumptions.”

“Call the operator and tell them what is going on,” Jay said. “Law enforcement will act upon this right away.”

There are also posters throughout the airport, notifying victims to approach a badged employee who will call for help, Jay said. Children’s Cabinet assists with youth in such situations locally.

According to Polaris, an organization that works to eradicate modern-day slavery, 70 percent of U.S. trafficking victims are taken through airports and other transportation hubs.

The majority of victims are teen girls and young women trafficked for sex. However, people of any gender, race, or nationality can be trafficked for sex, labor or both. Venues for labor trafficking include traveling/sales crews, domestic work, agriculture and construction.

Victims are generally tired, confused and sometimes on drugs. They don’t know how to ask for help, they’re scared to speak up due to threats against them and their loved ones, or they don’t know if anybody would believe them. Victims often don’t carry their own belongings, cash, or identification, making it more challenging to escape their trafficker.

The earlier the victim is saved, the better chance for survival. The average life expectancy for a victim once trafficked is 7 years, according to the FBI.

What to Look For

The American Association of Airport Executives suggests those who see something suspicious remember the letters DEAR, an acronym for dress, energy, age and relationship.

  • Dress: Is the person dressed like a typical teenager or young person?
  • Energy: Many teens are excited about travel. Trafficking victims are often tired, confused, sometimes on drugs, and make little to no eye contact with others. They generally don’t speak for themselves.
  • Age: What is the age gap between the young person and their traveling companion?
  • Relationship: Is the young person with someone who looks and acts like a parent?

Trafficking can be spotted anywhere during the travel process, between curbside drop-off and boarding gate. The trafficker and victim can be of the same gender and the video suggests not ignoring the restrooms.

“If a passenger is old enough, how close should they be watched by an adult?” the video’s narrator asks.

According to Awaken Reno, a nonprofit organization that provides services to women and girls to help them transition out of commercial sexual exploitation, an estimated 1,500 women and children are being sold online for sex at any given time in Northern Nevada.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline https://humantraffickinghotline.org/states ranks Nevada eighth nationally for the number of reported trafficking cases in 2018. Nevada ranked ninth in 2017 and 11th the year prior.

It might be unclear whether someone is a victim or trafficker because not all victims and traffickers match specific descriptions, and not all people who match some descriptions are victims or traffickers.

“Our law enforcement officers are trained. If in doubt call,” Jay said. “Always err on the side of caution and never make assumptions.”

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Carla O'Day
Carla O'Day
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.