For the last 5 years I’ve written about Department of Homeland Security programs working with airlines and hotel chains to snitch on their customers as possible sex traffickers based on a set of behavior that could match that of just about anyone.
To borrow from Jeff Foxworthy, ‘you might be a sex trafficker if…’ you frequently use of the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your room’s door; you have more than one computer or cell phone or you have photography equipment, turn down housekeeping (as if that’s still offered) or you pay with gift cards.
At airlines this manifests itself in flight attendants calling authorities to detain a husband and wife because the woman was Asian and the man wasn’t so of course it must be sex trafficking. American Airlines at the time said, “Out of an abundance of caution, our employees are trained to report any activity that is out of the ordinary.”
Southwest Airlines agents do this, too, like demanding to see the U.C. Berkeley women’s basketball coach’s Facebook photos to prove her her biracial son was hers prior to a Denver – Oakland flight. Her son’s passport wasn’t deemed good enough because apparently sex traffickers aren’t permitted on Facebook?
Once again Southwest is in the news after a flight attendant reported a white mother traveling with her 10 year old biracial daughter as “suspicious.” The mother was investigated as a sex trafficker.
Mary MacCarthy, 42, told Insider that she and her daughter, Moira, boarded a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Denver with a connecting flight in San Jose on October 22 in order to be with her family following the sudden death of her brother.
When the single mom and her child got off the plane at Denver International Airport, they were immediately met by two Denver police officers and a Southwest representative on the jet bridge at around 2:30 p.m…According to a police report from the Denver Police Department, officers were sent to the airport over a “report of possible Human Trafficking reported by Southwest Flight Attendant.”
Southwest had claimed that the,
- mother and daughter didn’t speak to each other during the flight (the young girl was listening to an audiobook and they did speak, just not when the flight attendant was present)
- the mother “did not allow the child to talk to flight crew” (the mother says she didn’t forbid it, the girl was engrossed in… her audiobook)
- passengers had boarded “suspiciously late”1
Things didn’t end after being “cleared to go” at the airport. There was a followup investigation, and the woman was contacted again November 1 due to “suspicion of human trafficking.”
According to Southwest Airlines, while they are “disheartened” by the story,
“Our employees undergo robust training on human trafficking,” the airline added. “Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for the millions of customers who travel with us each year.”
The problem with asking airline ticket agents to be on the lookout for child trafficking is that even with a quick course they don’t really know what they’re looking for and are likely to substitute their own prejudices, assumptions, and life experiences for actual data. In this case the ‘problem’ was one of race.