Alaska Airlines flight attendant Sheila Frederick achieved true hero status when she became alarmed at the sight of a young, disheveled teenage girl flying with an older and well-dressed man on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco. When Frederick tried to speak to the two, the man seemed defensive and answered for the girl.
So Frederick signaled for her to go to the restroom, where she had left her a note asking her if she was OK. The girl responded, writing back on the note, “I need help.”
Frederick then notified the flight’s pilot, who notified law enforcement, which met the flight at the gate when it landed. The man was then arrested for human trafficking.
“I’ve been a flight attendant for 10 years and it’s like I am going all the way back to when I was in training and I was like, I could have seen these young girls and young boys and didn’t even know,” Frederick told 10 News.
The incident took place in 2011, and Frederick’s been in touch with the girl a few times over the years. “I put my phone number on the note that I left for her, and I guess she memorized it, so a few weeks later, she called me,” she said.
According to the FBI, human trafficking is the third-largest criminal activity worldwide — and it often takes the form of sex trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that they’ve received 145,764 notifications of potential trafficking in the United States since 2007, with 26,727 calls to the hotline in 2016 alone. Last year, 7,572 cases of human trafficking were reported, with just over one-third of those cases involving minors. Furthermore, under U.S. federal law, any minor under the age of 18 induced into commercial sex is the victim of sex trafficking.
What’s more, one in six of the 18,500 runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2016 is believed to be a victim of sex trafficking, and 86 percent of these likely sex trafficking victims were in foster care or the care of social services when they went missing.
Thorn, the organization co-founded by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher to bring together technology innovators, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and government agencies to work together to protect children and prevent the sex trafficking of minors, notes that 325,000 children are at risk for becoming victims of sexual exploitation in North America and that 63 percent of underage sex trafficking victims said they had been advertised or sold online. And the average age of entry into the sex trade in America is 14-16 years old — the suspected age of the young woman that Frederick spotted on her flight.
The group Airline Ambassadors provides educational training programs for those in the aviation industry to become effective intermediaries in the fight against sex trafficking, especially of minors. In addition to their in-person trainings held around the globe, they offer online courses available 24/7 for anyone in the industry who wants to up their knowledge and skill set for what to do if they find themselves in a situation like Frederick’s. You can also donate to help sponsor an in-person training session for flight industry professionals at the airport in your city and community.