Serving as a leader in the fight against human trafficking since 2011, Delta continues to raise awareness on the difficult topic as the effects of the ongoing pandemic have made people more vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking.
"As January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month, it is a great reminder to refresh ourselves on the signs of human trafficking," said Allison Ausband, S.V.P. — In-Flight Service and leader of Delta's Executive Steering Committee Fighting Human Trafficking. "With an estimated 25 million victims affected globally, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. While January is an important month for us to raise awareness for the issue, we dedicate our resources and attention to fighting the crime 365 days a year."
To help spread educational awareness, Delta News Hub interviewed Polaris CEO Catherine Chen to further discuss how the ongoing pandemic has impacted victims of human trafficking.
How has Polaris seen the global pandemic impact victims?
We know that human trafficking thrives on chaos and desperation in communities that are affected by hardships and the fallout of inequities and injustices like addiction, poverty and housing instability, to name a few. We have seen that the health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted many of the same communities that are already vulnerable to human trafficking.
Polaris conducted an analysis of data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the immediate period after the March 12, 2020, national emergency declaration and found:
1. The number of crisis cases, where victims or survivors needed urgent assistance within 24 hours, increased by more than 40 percent.
2. The number of situations in which people needed immediate emergency shelter nearly doubled.
How can Delta people and our customers play a part in the fight against human trafficking despite current restrictions due to the pandemic?
1. Donate miles. Delta SkyMiles members can donate miles to Polaris through our SkyWish program at delta.com to cover the airfare survivors need to get to safety, return home, receive critical services or reunite with their families. Since inception, Delta customers have donated over 10 million miles to provide more than 170 flights to Polaris to help transport trafficking survivors to safety and stability.
2. Leverage your online presence. There are still many ways to get involved in activism in our new socially distanced environment. One important way is by speaking to the people in your life or through your social media networks about the facts and realities of sex and labor trafficking. We know that human trafficking is a dark topic, but it is our job to build awareness and create hope.
3. Education. There is a great deal of misinformation about how human trafficking takes place. The spread of rumors and conspiracy theories has dangerous real-world consequences. By learning more about how trafficking really happens, you can direct your energy and advocacy toward solutions that really matter - and just as importantly, help debunk myths and rumors that divert attention and resources away from the work of preventing trafficking and supporting survivors.
4. Support organizations doing the work every day. Become active in organizations that create and fight for policies and programs supporting healthy families and strong, equitable communities. By advocating for improvements to housing systems, worker protections, foster care and child welfare systems, protections for incarcerated people, and many others, we can stop trafficking before it happens and support survivors on their journeys toward healing.
I encourage you to check out Polaris's website, join our email list and follow us on social media for updates about specific opportunities for activism.
What are some of the most common myths about human trafficking in 2021 that Polaris is still seeing hinder change?
One of the most common myths about trafficking is the idea that adults and children are trafficked or "taken" by strangers. In reality, trafficking is rarely perpetrated by a total stranger who kidnaps victims. What we frequently see are stories of people being trafficked by intimate partners, family members, employers and others that they know and may even love and trust.
Another common narrative is that it can happen to anyone. We want everyone to be aware of what human trafficking looks like so we can all work to end it, but it is important to note that not everyone is equally vulnerable. There are certain risk factors that make some people more susceptible to trafficking, such as people who work in poorly regulated industries like domestic work and agriculture, people who have been abused or faced trauma, those with unstable living situations and people battling addiction.
How do commitments toward Diversity, Equity and Inclusion also help create change in the anti-trafficking space?
At Polaris our commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion is an inherent and essential part of our anti-trafficking work. People of color, indigenous communities, immigrants and people who identify as LGBTQ+ are disproportionately victimized. That's because human trafficking doesn't happen in a vacuum. It is the predictable result of historic and current inequities and injustices in our society.
These societal factors and inequities create community-wide vulnerabilities which traffickers then prey on.
Commitments toward and investment in, diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice are essential to level the playing field and prevent trafficking. These investments include employing survivors, as Delta has done, and ensuring that we all do our part to combat inequities at any level.
Has Polaris seen any recent trends around human trafficking relating to travel or airlines that Delta people should be aware of?
While trafficking can be difficult to detect and gather data on, we know that traffickers utilize and depend on legitimate systems and industries, including the airline industry, to carry out their crimes.
Sex trafficking victims may fly from city to city to meet sex buyers. Labor trafficking victims often fly to job opportunities that then become exploitative. And survivors of both sex and labor trafficking may utilize air travel to fly home after leaving their traffickers, to receive supportive services, or to testify against their traffickers.
In 2020, the airline industry saw a significant decrease in demand due to COVID-19, and it's likely that traffickers also decreased their air travel during this time. However, we've seen on the Trafficking Hotline that human trafficking is still alive despite the pandemic. As air travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, it's likely that traffickers and trafficking victims will do the same.
Polaris is leading a data-driven social justice movement to fight sex and labor trafficking at the massive scale of the problem – 25 million people worldwide deprived of the freedom to choose how they live and work. For more than a decade, Polaris has assisted thousands of victims and survivors through the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, helped ensure countless traffickers were held accountable and built the largest known U.S. data set on actual trafficking experiences.
With the guidance of survivors, they use that data to improve the way trafficking is identified, how victims and survivors are assisted, and how communities, businesses and governments can prevent human trafficking by transforming the underlying inequities and oppressions that make it possible.
The National Hotline offers round-the-clock access to report tips, seek services and ask for help. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888, or text "BeFree" (233733).