What is the Flight Attendant Initiative?
Innocents at Risk’s Flight Attendant Initiative began with the help of senior flight attendant Sandra Fiorini in 2008. In 2009, it was named “Flight Attendant Initiative” by the U.S. Custom and Border Control. It is an action plan to arm flight attendants with the tools necessary to combat child trafficking. Our brochures, titled “Protecting Women and Children from Human Trafficking“, provide vital information on how to recognize and report the human trafficking that flight attendants see daily. We also distribute wrist bands with the National Hotline Number 1-888-373-7888, so that flight personnel can call from the air and get officials to meet suspected offenders when the flight lands. Alternatively, attendants can give wrist bands to children they suspect might be entering a dangerous situation, arming them with the resources to get help.
The Flight Attendant Initiative has been extremely successful. Innocents at Risk has already been able to reach approximately one-third of American Airlines’ 19,000 flight attendants, and we are expanding the program to other airlines. Flight attendants are in a unique position to notice and report suspicious activity, and they continue to save innocents from the dangers of human trafficking daily.
Excerpt From “10 Shocking Secrets of Flight Attendants”
By Heather Poole, Published in May/June 2012 issue of MentalFloss
Airline crews train to spot traffickers
CNN’s Thelma Gutierrez reports on a new initiative to teach airline workers how to spot human trafficking on flights.
BWI, Dulles human trafficking transit points
Flight attendants, like Sandi Fiorini, are on-board with cracking down on this rapidly growing crime. She says, “Flight attendants could put a huge dent in the trafficking of children”.
Airline Ambassadors International Human Trafficking Success Stories
CNN Human Trafficking Segment featuring Nancy Rivard
Nancy Rivard was interviewed by CNN on Airline Ambassadors efforts to combat human trafficking. Watch the video clip here.
Deborah Sigmund written testimony for Congressional Briefing on July 1st, 2010
Innocents at Risk is honored to be here today to discuss the Flight Attendant Initiative and our partnership with Airline Ambassadors. I would like to thank Congressman Chris Smith and Congressman James Oberstar, the Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, for hosting this briefing today on how we can save lives by fighting Human Trafficking in the air.
In June of 2008, Innocents at Risk began the Flight Attendant initiative when American Senior Flight Attendant Sandra Fiorini heard about Innocents at Risk through our awareness and educational community outreach programs. Sandra came to us with valuable information and we learned that an incredible amount of trafficking was taking place via commercial flights. This was a major breakthrough! A task force of flight attendants led by Sandra was formed, and Innocents at Risk sprang into action. We produced a basic brochure, “Protecting Women and Children from Human Trafficking”, a guide to teach flight attendants how to respond to potential human trafficking situations in airports and on airplanes. The brochure also contains the National Human Trafficking HOTLINE number 1-888-373-7888, which is operated by the Polaris Project.
As the flight attendants initiative grew, we were able to hear and pass to authorities valuable information about human trafficking. For example, flight personnel informed us that twice a week young girls were boarding flights to Chicago for Moscow with one way tickets who were told they would be “models” or “work in TV” in NYC. Working together, Sandra Fiorini and Innocents at Risk were able to inform the hotline and DHS/ICE. Soon an ICE Agent was on the flight, a criminal operation was uncovered and girls were rescued! This is what just one flight attendant can do to save innocent lives. Think of all we could do if we got all 90,000 flight attendants worldwide on board! These truly are an army of angels who want to help our effort.
In January of 2009, John Ingham, director of HSTC, learned of the Flight Attendant Initiative. He assembled together the correct players from DHS, ICE and the FBI to meet with an American Airlines representative (Mike Wascom), The Polaris Project, Sandra Fiorini and Innocents at Risk to discuss how to mobilize this incredible resource of flight attendants, who are our “First Line of Defense” against human trafficking.
As the Flight Attendant Initiative gained strength and momentum, we started getting more governmental attention and support. In March 2009, this initiative became the BLUE LIGHTNING CAMPAIGN. In May of 2009, we met again at HSTC to discuss the Blue Lightening Code of Conduct, which was based on the ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes Code of Conduct established to protect children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism).
It was a tremendous accomplishment! Innocents at Risk applauds American Airlines for coming to the discussion table and we congratulate the leadership of John Ingham for bringing everyone together to establish a protocol to expand this talented force of individuals and agencies.
The Flight Attendants Initiative continued to expand. In July 2009, I met Nancy Rivard, founder of Airline Ambassadors, at a mission training in Miami. My purpose was to brief Nancy and the attending Flight Attendants on “Blue Lightening”. Nancy and Airline Ambassadors were eager to join forces in our growing battle to fight human trafficking.
Airline Ambassadors brings a vital work force of over 6,000 members and corporate partners dedicated to preventing trafficking in the U.S. and around the world. With their focus on ending child trafficking, we have already had some major successes. I have personally witnessed how quickly law enforcement responds to the calls by flight attendants. When reports come in to the hotline, ICE agents come immediately to meet the plane as it reaches the ground. This lightning-fast response is helping to save lives. However, this is ONLY A FRACTION OF CHILDREN WHO COULD BE SAVED.
We need to do more! To date, Innocents at Risk has provided airline personnel with thousands of brochures and blue hot-line wrist bands supported only by private and corporate sponsors, but we can do so much more. We need to train all 90,000 flight attendants worldwide and ALL Airline personal. Today, we are asking the airlines to incorporate Human Trafficking training into their basic annual airline training and to help us educate passengers with acceptable trafficking information in in-flight magazines. Together, we can open thousands of eyes to this horror, and take control of the airways, to form an impenetrable defense that will protect children everywhere.
We thank you in advance for helping us save innocent lives.
Deborah Sigmund written testimony for the Human Rights Commission, March 2010
My name is Deborah Sigmund and I am the Founder and Director of Innocents at Risk, a 501 (c)(3) organization dedicated to preventing child exploitation and child trafficking. I would like to thank the Tom Lantos and the Human Rights Commission for asking me to be with you today to discuss the greatest human rights issues of this century- human trafficking.
The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 ended slavery in most of the British Empire, and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 encouraged the conclusion of slavery in the United States. Most people believe that slavery ended long ago- but sadly, it did not. Trafficking victims are modern day slaves and there are currently an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide.
Like many, I was unaware of the perils of human trafficking. I first learned about trafficking in the summer of 2003. I was told that each year millions of women and children are coerced, tricked, drugged, kidnapped and sold into the underground world of the sex trade. I was horrified that this was happening in virtually every part of the world. I also learned that this was not just happening hundreds of miles away from me, this was occurring in nearly every city in the United States. Everyday young girls and boys were being forced to work in the sex trade, yet their stories were not front-page news.
From the Department of State’s Trafficking In Persons office, I learned that Human Trafficking is a $32 billion dollar global industry. It is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Trafficking has become more lucrative than the illegal arms trade, and is quickly beginning to surpass the revenue acquired from the illegal drug trade.
From the Department of State I also learned that in spite of the large number of dedicated government and Non Government Organizations working to combat trafficking, there was still a great need for awareness and education about the issue. As a result, Innocents at Risk was formed. Since 2004 Innocents at Risk has been working with the Department of State, leaders in Congress such as Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Christopher Smith, the Diplomatic Corps, private corporations and the media, to educate the public about the horrors of the human trafficking. We have built hundreds of partnerships with NGO’s in the US and abroad.
Two years ago at an Innocents at Risk event, I met Sandra Fiorini a senior flight attendant for American Airlines. Sandra told me that she and other flight attendants often see suspicious situations with children in airports and in flight. From our discussion we realized that these situations were more than likely child trafficking incidents. Sandra told me that flight attendants wanted to act, but did not know what to do. I had to take immediate action. I knew that if we could effectively target trafficker’s mode of transportation, that we could begin to alleviate this epidemic.
Innocents at Risk created a brochure of basic information titled “ How to Recognize Potential Victims” which contained the Human Trafficking National Hotline number sponsored by Polaris Project. Sandra, along with a task force of dedicated flight attendants, began to spread the word about trafficking, and about Innocents at Risk’s program to combat trafficking in air. From further discussions with more flight attendants we learned that trafficking was taking place via commercial airlines. As the initiative grew, we learned valuable information from airport personal. We were informed that twice a week young girls were aboard a flight from Moscow to Chicago with one- way tickets. The girls were told that they would become models or work in television in New York City. I called the Department of Homeland Security, a trusted NGO working in Moscow and the Association of Catholic Bishops working in Chicago. With the help of law enforcement and the immediate attention of the NGOs, we were all able to thwart the trafficker’s plans and save girls lives. This was a major breakthrough and a positive step for trafficking prevention.
In 2009, John Ingham of the Department of Homeland Security assembled members of his agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI to meet with Mike Wascom, an American Airlines representative. The Polaris Project, Sandra Fiorini and Innocents at Risk were present at the meeting in order to discuss how to mobilize the task force of flight attendants, who had become the first line of defense in the transatlantic anti-trafficking movement. After 6 months of meetings we created the Blue Lightning Initiative; now the Flight Attendant Initiative. The initiative’s mission is to train all airline personnel and flight attendants about how to properly assess, stop, and respond to various trafficking situations.
We applaud American Airlines and John Ingham for the success of this initiative. We have been hosted by various embassies to discuss and promote our efforts. We also thank the embassies of Afghanistan, Sweden, Switzerland, Mexico, Columbia, Romania, Chile, Iceland, Malta, Cyprus and Canada for continued support.
Thus far the hotline has received calls as a result of this initiative, and law enforcement has met planes at the terminal to take action. Children’s lives have been saved, but there is still much work to be done. Our goal is to educate all flight attendants about this issue, and save each and every victim. With your help, this can be accomplished. Please help us wake up America and open the eyes of the public to this horror happening all around us. In the name of the children, today we ask for your support and funding to help us prevent more innocent lives from slipping away.
Flight Attendant Sandra Fiorini’s Testimony
Good morning my name is Sandra Fiorini and I am an international flight attendant with American Airlines. My seniority number is 719 and I have flown with American for 39 years. I would like to thank the House and Innocents at Risk for their opportunity to comment on Human trafficking. During my career with American Airlines I have seen many instances of human trafficking. While every instance has been different, there were always red flags that indicated that something was not right. Most of us are parents and when children of any age are involved we seem to be more keenly aware when these flags are raised. A few examples I have seen can enlighten you to what is happening everyday:
- 18 year old boy with newborn baby. No diaper bag, just one bottle and two diapers.
- 3 adults of same nationality with 5 children of all different nationalities and same age (4-5 yrs old).
- Prostitution tents at Redwood, CA campground. Men coming in and out.
- Young girls 15-17yrs old coming over from Russia thinking they are going to be models and work on TV in NYC, even though they didn’t speak any English. Moscow to Chicago direct flight.
Please remember I am just one of 90,000 flight attendants world wide. Think of all the stories the other 90,000 can tell. Before I was involved in Innocents at Risk, I would call the local police. They would respond it was my word against theirs and what did I want them to do about it. Of course I wanted them to respond and file a report, which they would not do. Innocents at Risk has created a brochure with the trafficking signs and the Hotline Number to call. This gives us a tool to report from the plane what we are seeing, which is the first step in prevention. Because of calling the hotline an ICE agent was assigned to work the Moscow to Chicago flight to prevent the daily flow of young boys and girls from Russia for the sex trade.
Flight attendants are the first line of defense against human trafficking. Innocents at Risk is pulling together with many government agency’s in a coordinated effort under Blue Lightning. For two years I have been educating my crews with the Innocents at Risk Brochures and wristbands with the Hotline number. I am asking them to wear the bracelets and use the hotline number to report what they have seen and pass the brochure on to other flight attendants. During that time the hotline has reported a 30% increase in call from flight attendants. The general public is unaware of the positive results Innocents at Risk is making.
Flight attendants are an untapped work force that can combat this crime against woman and children. Innocents at Risk is raising awareness in my workplace. The small percentage of trained flight attendants are reporting what they encounter everyday. With funding we could educate the whole 90,000 person strong army of winged angels. I intend to keep working with Innocents at Risk until all 90,000 flight attendants are trained.
Sandra Fiorini on Voice of America!
Become a Flight Ambassador today! Order a brochure (or read it online here!) to inform yourself about human trafficking. Pledge to wear the hotline wristband (pictured below) on every flight.
Want to do more? Order brochures and wristbands to distribute to your fellow employees.
Not an airline employee? You can still sponsor an employee, airplane, airport, or airline. Your donation would go towards training personnel, and it is 100% tax deductable.
For more information, please email Deborah Sigmund at firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Flight Attendant Initiative’ as the subject line.