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Flight Attendants Are First Line of Defense Against Human Trafficking

Flight attendants at a large U.S. airline are training other flight attendants to recognize signs of human trafficking on international and domestic flights. The flight attendant leading the program says it's possible to catch traffickers in the act, saving the lives of women and children trapped in the net.

For a moment in time, strangers from around the world come together as travelers.

It's also a moment when American Airlines flight attendant Sandra Fiorini can save a life. "We had an 18-year-old boy and he had a brand new day-old baby, umbilical cord everything was still there, day-old baby. He's going on a six hour flight, no wife. He has two diapers stuck in his pockets and one bottle," she describes.

Fiorini sees scenrios like that on a regular basis when she is on one of her international flights. She says after 39 years on the job, it's not difficult to recognize a suspected case of human trafficking. "Most of us are parents. When you see an instance that's not right and a red flag is raised, especially when there is children involved, you're more in tune with what's happening," she said.

Fiorini had tried to report suspicious activity to the police but they never responded. Two years ago, it all changed when Fiorini met Deborah Sigmund, founder of the organization Innocents At Risk.

"It's enslavement. We're talking about modern day slavery," Sigmund said.

Innocents At Risk provided Fiorini with brochures detailing the signs of human trafficking. There's also a phone number to report a suspected case.

"Before you couldn't call anyone," Fiorini said. "The local authorities would not respond to you. So now when you do call this hotline number, someone does respond."

Law enforcement will be waiting at the gate if a flight attendant reports something suspicious. Innocents At Risk created a video showing why it's important for law enforcement to respond. The organization says women, girls and even boys are being sold into sexual slavery.

"This is happening everywhere in the world, every country in the world," Sigmund said. "And it's happening here in the United States. Its a multi-billion dollar industry."

Meanwhile, Fiorini educates flight attendants around the world, using brochures and bracelets that contain the human trafficking hotline number. "I show my brochure, I tell them what I'm doing, and then I ask them to put the hotline number in the cell phone," she said. "Please pass the brochure onto another flight attendent."

Fiorini and Innocents At Risk have also been mobilizing lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"We are working with Congress, with Human Rights Commission, and I think that something will come out of that and I'm very optimistic," Sigmund said.

The hope is that brochures like these will eventually end up in the seat back pockets of all flights so passengers will notify the flight attendants if they spot something suspicious.

Fiorini hopes once passengers know what to look for, they won't turn the other way.