Phoenix's plan to fight sex trafficking ahead of Super Bowl

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by Natalie Brand

azfamily.com

Posted on June 19, 2014 at 5:34 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 19 at 5:40 PM

PHOENIX -- It’s a crime hidden behind closed doors, a trade trafficked around the world and through the streets of Phoenix. 

The evidence is everywhere from online ads to in the air.

“Traffickers move their victims frequently to keep them powerless, and they use the speed and convenience of airline travel,” said flight attendant Nancy Rivard, who founded the group Airline Ambassadors to train flight attendants nationwide on how to identify possible victims in the sky and report suspicious activity.

“We’ve been correct many times,” Rivard said.

The special training is done through a partnership with another group, Innocents at Risk. They made a stop in Phoenix earlier this year to train Valley flight attendants ahead of Super Bowl 2015.

“We have truly seen that this is one way that we can protect these innocent lives from walking out the door to a sentence of probably death,” said Innocents at Risk Founder Deborah Sigmund.

“We’re the first line of defense, also the last line of defense,” said Phoenix-based flight attendant Deborah Volpe.

“We’re trained in situational awareness, and sometimes, we’re not even sure what it is," Volpe said. "But we know there’s something in our gut and spirit that says, 'That is not right,' especially when we see a child that may be in peril."

The flight attendant training is just one initiative ahead of the big game which will fill the Valley next February with thousands of people and potentially victims.

Kimberly Klein, Safe Action project manager with the O’Connor House, is currently working to train every Valley hotel and motel on how to spot signs of sex trafficking.

“We want to educate employees in the course of their every day duties,” Klein said.

Research from ASU, working in conjunction with the McCain Institute, shows the sheer volume of sex trafficking overwhelms any single law enforcement agency, stressing the need for cooperation and support from community-based groups.

The efforts of various organizations and power players in Phoenix have caught the attention of Luis CdeBaca, ambassador-at-large to combat the trafficking in persons. CdeBaca was appointed by the president to coordinate efforts at a national level in the fight against trafficking.

“You see a community really coming together to rise up in this fight against modern slavery,” CdeBaca told 3TV during a visit to the Valley.

He hopes the work being done ahead of the Super Bowl leads to saving more children year round.

“Let’s look at the Super Bowl as something we should be vigilant around. Let’s look at it also as a place we can jump off from, and make sure that everyone knows that girls, boys, men and women, people in Arizona are not for sale," CdeBaca said.

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