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Heroic flight attendant saves sex trafficking victim – here’s how she did it!

by Ellen Killoran

Flight attendants are being trained to spot the signs of human trafficking

A vigilant flight attendant once helped save a girl from becoming a human trafficking victim, and now a training program dedicated to stopping human trafficking is using her experience to help teach other airline employees what to look for.

On a flight in 2011, Sheila Frederick noticed a young teenage passenger who appeared uncomfortable and out of sorts traveling with an older man. While the man was well dressed, the teenager was disheveled, with greasy hair. When Frederick tried to engage with the passenger, her companion shut her down.

“Something in the back of my mind said something is not right,” Frederick told 10 News Tampa Bay.” He was well dressed, that’s what kind of got me because why is he well dressed and she is looking disheveled and out of sorts.”

Determined, Frederick was able to get a message under her breath to go into the bathroom, where the flight attendant had left her a note. The girl responded to the note that she needed help. Frederick contacted authorities and police were waiting for the passengers at the terminal of the destination airport.

Frederick told the news station that she left her phone number on the note, and the girl has contacted her a few times over the years. She is now reportedly a college student.

Former flight attendant Nancy Rivard founded Airline Ambassadors to train flight attendants to help stop human trafficking victims, and she’s hoping her trainees apply the same intuition that saved the girl on Frederick’s flight.

At a recent training session in Houston, 100 volunteers were taught about what signs to look for. They include: A child who is traveling with an adult who does not appear to be their parent; a passenger with bruises or other signs of being battered; a passenger who seems scared, on edge, or ashamed; and in particular, a passenger whose companion insists on speaking for them.

Rivard told NBC News that the next step is sometimes the hardest: The flight attendant should contact authorities right away and let them take it from there; the airline worker should not try and intervene themselves.

“We tell people not to try to rescue because you can endanger the victim and yourself,” Rivard said.

According to NBC News, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement identified 400 victims and arrested 2,000 human trafficker last year.

Because sex work in general tends to spike during major sport events like the Super Bowl, authorities are particularly vigilant about sex trafficking around those events.

Ellen is a seasoned journalist and former media & entertainment reporter with a taste for true crime. Formerly a senior editor at IBTimes, her work has appeared in Forbes, Rolling Stone, Maxim, NYMag, Indiewire, and more. She co-produced the HBO documentary "Youth Knows No Pain" and appeared in a documentary series that aired alongside the Lifetime movie "Manson's Lost Girls."