On being alert and taking simple action to avert a catastrophe

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

I read a fascinating news story about how, through being alert and taking simple action, a woman named Donna Hubbard was able to save a young boy from exploitation, and possibly from injury or death.

This alert airline employee on a flight from Honduras to the United States noticed a couple carrying a child who was sweating, lethargic and appeared to be in pain on her flight. According to Reuters, “After take-off, Hubbard and her crew spoke to the man and woman separately, who gave different names and ages for the boy. Hubbard told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she was suspicious that he was being trafficked, kidnapped or even being used as a drug mule.”

Most importantly, she did something about what she observed. She notified the pilot who radioed ahead for police to meet the plane upon its arrival.

Trafficking and human slavery statistics are overwhelming in our modern world. According to the Global Slavery Index, 46 million people globally are living as slaves, trafficked into exploitation, sold for sex or trapped in debt bondage.

That statistic is hard to believe. After all, didn’t we rid the world of the scourge of slavery through the work of William Wilberforce in England over two hundred years ago and with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 in the United States?

Obviously not. Today, slavery exists out-of-sight, but often in plain view in our own towns and cities. In fact, there is more slavery in the world today, including in the United States, than at any time in history, including before it was banned in so many countries.

I became fully aware of that when I read the incredible book Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It by Dr. David Batstone who is an ethics professor at the University of San Francisco.

Dr. Batstone tells the story of eating frequently at an Asian restaurant in the San Francisco area. It was one of his favorite places which contributed to his shock when he heard it had been raided after authorities discovered that most of the employees there were trafficked slaves.  His book is an excellent starting point to help us understand the extent and terror of this world-wide scourge.

Unfortunately, this horrendous crime is all around. But, many of us may have the opportunity to intercede and rescue a child, a woman, any person from this criminal, cruel treatment.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of being alert to what is going on around us.

CNN offers these suggestions, especially to those who travel, whether by airplane, or along interstate highways:

Warning signs:

1 — A traveler is not dressed appropriately for their route of travel.

You might notice right away that a traveler has few or no personal items. Victims may be less well dressed than their companions. They may be wearing clothes that are the wrong size, or are not appropriate for the weather on their route of travel.

2 — They have a tattoo with a bar code, the word “Daddy.”

Many people have tattoos, so a tattoo in itself is obviously not an indicator, but traffickers or pimps feel they own their victims and a barcode tattoo, or a tattoo with “Daddy” or even a man’s name could be a red flag that the person is a victim.

3 — They can’t provide details of their departure location, destination, or flight information.

Traffickers employ a number of tools to avoid raising suspicion about their crime and to keep victims enslaved. Some traffickers won’t tell their victims where they are located, being taken, or even what job they will have.

Because victims don’t have the means to get home or pay for things like food, they must rely on traffickers in order to get by, forcing them to stay in their situation.

4 — Their communication seems scripted, or there are inconsistencies with their story

Sometimes traffickers will coach their victims to say certain things in public to avoid suspicion. A traveler whose story seems inconsistent or too scripted might be trying to hide the real reason for their travel and merely reciting what a trafficker has told them to say.

5 – They can’t move freely in an airport or on a plane, or they are being controlled, closely watched or followed.

People being trafficked into slavery are sometimes guarded in transit. A trafficker will try to ensure that the victim does not escape, or reach out to authorities for help.

6 – They are afraid to discuss themselves around others, deferring any attempts at conversation to someone who appears to be controlling them.

Fear and intimidation are two of the tools that traffickers use to control people in slavery. Traffickers often prevent victims from interacting with the public because the victim might say something that raises suspicions about their safety and freedom.

7 – Child trafficking

A child being trafficked for sexual exploitation may be dressed in a sexualized manner, or seem to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

A child may appear to be malnourished and/or shows signs of physical or sexual abuse, such as bruises, scars, or cigarette burns.

All it took on the airline flight was the concern of Ms. Hubbard and her willingness to call in help. But it is going to take much more, from each one of us, to uncover and eliminate this torture: encouraging public officials to take action, participating in or contributing to one of the many organizations that work to alleviate the suffering, reading and being informed, keeping alert as we travel or shop or eat out, and praying.

I pray that each of us can be aware and be ready to step in and take action to save a life from slavery.


For more information, check out these websites:




https://www.ijm.org/ (A Christian organization)

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