Sheila Frederick is a seasoned flight attendant – so, when she spotted a “dishevelled” teenage girl on an Alaska Airlines plane from Seattle to San Francisco, she immediately knew something was wrong.
“Something in the back of my mind said something was not right,” she told local station 10 News.
The girl, who looked around 14 or 15 years old, was accompanied by a smartly dressed man, Frederick noted. “That’s what got me,” she said, “because I thought, ‘why is he well-dressed and she is looking all dishevelled and out of sorts?’”
The 49-year-old flight attendant attempted to speak with the two passengers, but to no avail; the man reportedly became incredibly defensive, while the young girl refused to engage in conversation.
However Frederick refused to give up.
“I’ve been a flight attendant for ten years and it’s like I am going all the way back to when I was in training to spot the signs for human trafficking,” she said.
“Signs like someone who appears to be being controlled, who is bruised or battered, or someone who won’t answer questions or make eye contact.”
Understanding that the teen would not be able to speak freely in front of the man watching over her, Frederick left a note for her to find in the plane’s toilet. And, when the flight attendant returned to the cubicle later, she found that the teen had responded with her own message.
“I need help.”
Read more: Why we should never legalise prostitution
Frederick immediately went to inform the pilot about the incident, who communicated the message to police in San Francisco. Officers rushed to the airport to await the plane’s landing – and the man was arrested upon arrival.
“If you see something, say something,” Frederick urged fellow flight attendants and passengers.
Frederick, when asked for an update on the teen’s story, explained that she has been in touch with her a number of times.
“I put my phone number on the note that I left for her and I guess she memorised it, so a few weeks later, she called me,” she said, adding that the teen is now attending college.
This story has a happy ending. However it is estimated that more than 50,000 women and girls are trafficked into the United States for prostitution each year, reports The Washington Post.
Last year, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 2,000 human traffickers and identified 400 victims – but many more are believed to have fallen through the cracks.
As a result, flight attendants are now being trained to spot for signs of human trafficking as part of their instruction.
Image via WTSP / iStock.