Houston Airports Employees, Partners Participate in Campaign to Combat Human Trafficking

About 450 Receive Human Trafficking Prevention Training at the Well-attended Event

May 24, 2022

On May 4, approximately 450 individuals received human trafficking prevention training at an important and well-attended event at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The newly trained airport personnel included contract employees as well as law enforcement representatives from CBP, TSA, and the Houston Police and Fire Departments. 

The Houston Airport System was the first airport system in the nation to join the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Lightning Initiative (BLI) designed to combat human trafficking. The BLI trains aviation personnel to identify potential human traffickers and human trafficking victims and to report suspicions to federal law enforcement. 

Jim Szczesniak, Chief Operating Officer at Houston Airports, said that 60 million passengers pass through Houston Airports and there is a clear awareness that airports are utilized for human trafficking. That awareness motivated Houston Airports to further engage in the battle against the illegal and horrific practice.

"We were the first airport in the nation to basically join the Blue Lightning campaign and so with that, we've trained over 18,000 employees now at the airport," Szczesniak said. That number includes staff, plus concessions, airline and other employees associated with the airport system.  

Saba Abashawl, Houston Airports Chief of External Affairs, organized the well-attended event and discussed the great need to continue the fight against a scourge which has claimed more than 40 million victims globally, with hundreds of thousands in the United States. 

“We are very proud to be partnering with some of our major stakeholders to really bring the message that human trafficking is all around us,” Abashawl said. “We need to be aware and to continue fighting against it.” 

Attendees heard from Kathy McGibbon, a human trafficking survivor turned advocate for victims. Additionally, they experienced a walk-through exhibit of displays and information that explains what human trafficking is and how to intervene in an airport environment.  Rhonda Kuykendall, a survivor and advocate who started legislation to abolish a statute of limitations for child sexual assault, also shared experiences and signs to look for with employees. 

“A lot of individuals that may seem free, they could potentially be victims of human trafficking. Even though they’re not in chains and stuff like that. As an overcomer of trafficking myself, it's very easy for someone to say well why even talk about it. It’s a very shameful event, a very shameful experience - a harmful, and hurtful and painful experience," McGibbon said.

Szczesniak said the training empowers employees with the knowledge and resources to detect potential human trafficking cases and then notify law enforcement. 

“This is a situation that nobody wants to be in because everybody has a mother or daughter, a sister, a friend, a son, you know those – those family members that can…potentially be victimized by this. So there is that natural call to say ‘hey we’re not going to tolerate this at the Houston Airport System,’” Szczesniak said. 

Abashawl said the event and the BLI program was designed to create a stronger awareness of the danger signs and signals, as well as the behaviors that invite suspicious, within the airport community. 

“If we see something, we at least will say something,” she said. “Even if we save one life, that’s one great life that will be saved.” 

Abashawl said that Houston Airports was most appreciative for all attendees but singled out Eva Millona, DHS Assistant Secretary for Partnership and Engagement, who provided remarks, and Houston Fire Department Fire Chief Samuel Pena. 

“We are also very grateful for the great representation we received at the event from our congressional offices, sponsors and advocacy group RedM,” Abashawl said.  Sponsors included United Airlines, HNTB, Jacobs Engineering Group  and the Walsh Group.

In addition, NOV Inc. created a walk-through exhibit that showcased artifacts from actual trafficking cases that connect back to the stories of those who have been enslaved long with important statistics.

Governmental representation included staff from the offices of Senator Ted Cruz; Congressmen Kevin Brady, Dan Crenshaw, Michael McCall, Brian Babin, Troy Nehls, and Randy Weber; Congresswomen Lizzie Fletcher; and Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle.  

If you or someone you know is being victimized by human trafficking, you can contact the Houston Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or you can send an email to help@humantraffickinghotline.org