As the world begins to reopen after a global pandemic, it is important now more than ever to learn how to identify human trafficking while you travel. Katrina Sriranpong, former lawyer, mother, and philanthropist, loves to travel the world with her family. Her passion for traveling is equal to her advocacy against trafficking, especially that of children.
Katrina Sriranpong supports many organizations that combat the trafficking of children and advocates for them, including Operation Underground Railroad and UNICEF. Her experience in supporting these initiatives has informed her of the importance of recognizing the signs of human trafficking.
According to organizations such as ECPAT, many victims involved in tourism trafficking are children. “People can be part of the solution and participate in the immediate liberation of children who are victims. I think it’s important to recognize the signs of trafficking while abroad so they can take direct action against those who practice slavery,” says Katrina Sriranpong.
Research before you travel
Educate yourself on the trafficking statistics and news stories before you make the decision to travel abroad. Understanding the prevalence and common tactics used by traffickers in the region you plan to visit can help you develop an awareness of the issue and aid in identifying potential victims.
For instance, Southeast Asia has long been recognized as a source region for trafficking children for sexual exploitation. Thailand is a key vacation destination but it is also a key destination for migrant workers, human trafficking, and forced labour. There are approximately 610,000 human trafficking victims in Thailand and most of them come from neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. However, Thai nationals have also been deceived or coerced into labour or sexual exploitation.
If you see the signs, act immediately
“It requires a collective effort in order to unravel the criminal organizations involved in trading human life,” says Katrina Sriranpong.
According to the Polaris Project, only 22 percent of calls reporting trafficking in hotels and motels are made by victims self-reporting crimes committed against them. When a report is made, it is usually made by someone who either witnessed suspicious activities or interacted with a victim.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has developed a list of trafficking indicators. A person may be trafficked if they:
- Show signs of physical injuries and abuse
- Are accompanied everywhere by someone who speaks for him/her
- Appear fearful or under the control of another person
- Are unfamiliar with the neighbourhood where they live or work
- May have health issues that have not been attended to
- Lack of identification, passport, or other travel documents
It is also advisable to research the national trafficking hotline for the country you are visiting so you know who to call and report. For example, Thailand has created this website, which provides details on how to report human trafficking: https://trafficking.help/th/. Internationally, reports can be made online via Crime Stoppers International.
It is also important for travelers to remain vigilant at the airport and on airplanes as many victims are trafficked across the border. Approaching a suspected trafficker or questioning them is not advised. If you are on an aircraft and suspect there is a victim with a human trafficker, notify the air steward so the pilot can be asked to contact ground authorities.
There is no doubt that traffickers are at the airport using airlines to transport their victims. While at the airport, pay attention to the following warning signs of human trafficking:
- A traveler’s clothing – a victim may be wearing poorly fitted clothing that is the wrong size, not appropriate for the weather/destination, or they may be poorly dressed compared to their companions
- A traveler may be traveling with minimal luggage or belongings
- A traveler may be traveling alone but do not know the details of who they will be meeting upon arrival
- A traveler cannot provide details of their destination, flight information or departure location – traffickers may make it difficult for their victims to escape by not letting them know where they are, where they are being transported to and what job is waiting for them at their final destination
- A traveler may not be able to move freely in an airport or airplane or being watched closely or followed – this is often to prevent victims from escaping or prevent them from reaching out to authorities for assistance
- Their communications may seem scripted or they may provide inconsistent information about a victim’s name or age. This applies to both victims and traffickers
- They may be afraid to discuss themselves around others, deferring to their companion who appears to be controlling them – traffickers often prevent their victims from interacting freely with the public because the victims might raise suspicion about their freedom
- Victims may have common tattoos indicating they are the property of someone or an organization
A child being trafficked for sexual exploitation may be dressed in a sexualized manner or under the influence of drugs. The child may also appear malnourished and display signs of physical abuse such as bruises, scars, or cigarette burns.
Not all the indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation and the presence or absence of any indicator is not necessarily proof of human trafficking. Recognizing the signs of human trafficking is the first step in stopping these heinous acts. We must all play a role in becoming better informed on the issue and raising awareness of a crime that is often described as “hidden in plain sight.”