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Human trafficking: Recognize signs, stay alert

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The Air Force has zero tolerance for trafficking in persons. Combat trafficking in persons aims to educate military members on the seriousness of this crime, impact on the military and the results in terms of human tragedy. (Courtesy graphic)

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Sexual assault is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent. The Schriever Air Force Base Sexual Assault Response and Prevention program offers support for victims of sexual assault. For more information, call 567-7272. (Courtesy illustration)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Human trafficking is defined as when someone is forced, coerced or tricked into working for the profit of someone else, primarily as a prostitute.

In 2017, 4,460 human trafficking cases were reported in the United States, according to the Human Trafficking Hotline website.

The Schriever Air Force Base Sexual Assault Response and Prevention program helps ensure Airmen and their families stay safe, alert and aware of the dangers of human trafficking.

“It can start as simple as chatting online or texting with a potential friend or future partner,” Paula Krause, 50th Space Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and program manager, SAPR, said.  “The online ‘friend’ may ask to see a compromising photo the ‘friend’ may later use to blackmail them into unsafe situations.” 

Cecilia Smith, victim advocate, SAPR, said she often has to have conversations with her grandkids about the dangers of gaming online.

“They think they are playing and talking with their ‘friends,’ but they don’t really know each other,” she added.

Krause and Smith stressed the importance of having conversations with children about the dangers of the internet.

“You don’t want to alienate your kids but you want to keep them safe and make sure you know what they’re doing, so if there are red flags, you can address them,” Krause said.

Both Krause and Smith suggest monitoring apps and websites children are using, and know who they are speaking to on a daily basis.

“It’s our job as parents to protect our children,” Krause said. “Kids are naïve and new to engaging others online, they don’t know what dangers are out there.”

Smith added military life can often be a source of danger when it comes to human trafficking and cyber threats.

“We as military move around a lot which can make friends more rare and more coveted and those met online potentially more dangerous,” Smith said. “

Krause added Schriever Airmen can be blackmail targets too.

“Airmen can caught up in internet scams where they think they’re harmlessly chatting with someone who they later find out is underage,” she added.  “This can be a tactic to put Airmen in a compromising position traffickers can exploit.”

Danielle Hayes, special agent, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, said human trafficking is not common in the Air Force, and the OSI office at Schriever has not seen any cases of human trafficking to date, but the threat remains.

“If there was a case, we would absolutely reach out to the victim to ensure the appropriate resources are provided to them,” she said.

Hayes provided a list of red flags to be aware of, highlighted below.

  • Working with or being friends with someone who works excessively long or unusual hours.

  • Someone who is not allowed breaks or works under unusual restrictions at work.

  • Owes large debts and are unable to pay them off.

  • Owns a residence or lives in a residence with high-security measures like opaque windows, bars on windows, security cameras etc.

  • Someone who appears malnourished, avoids eye contact, shows signs of physical/sexual abuse.

  • Someone who is fearful of the discussion of law enforcement, and in general has numerous inconsistencies in daily stories.

The Air Force has zero tolerance for trafficking in persons. Combat trafficking in persons aims to educate military members on the seriousness of this crime, impact on the military and the results in terms of human tragedy.

Smith is the coordinator for CTIP at Schriever, educating Airmen on this worldwide problem.

She emphasized the importance of reporting any suspicious activity to the chain of command.

“Just be aware that human trafficking is out there and it’s real, especially in Colorado,” Smith said.  

Should any Airmen come across signs of someone who may be human-trafficked, or involved with human trafficking, contact AFOSI at 567-5049 to file an official report. Contact the SARC for more information about the CTIP program at 567-7272.