Houston Airports leverages technology to help more victims of human trafficking

Federal data confirms 70% of victims are trafficked through airports. Houston Airport is using strategically placed signage to empower airport guests to reach out and help if they suspect someone is in trouble.

July 20, 2023

When you can’t walk away, know that you can still reach out for help. Houston Airports, together with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to end human trafficking. The airport system is strategically placing posters in all restrooms at George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport.  
The sign reads, “If you are controlled and do not have the freedom to leave, you may be a victim of human trafficking.” People are encouraged to call a hotline to report the crime. The campaign was just updated to now include a QR code created by the non-profit advocacy organization Twentyfour-Seven.  
The organization’s founder, a survivor of human trafficking, understands the challenges of connecting and communicating with victims. Twentyfour-Seven seeks to provide help to victims and survivors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  

A discreet cellphone camera scan of a QR code redirects a person to Twentyfour-Seven's reporting website. The technology allows a person to select from ten languages before reading more about human trafficking on their phone. From being forced or coerced into performing labor or sexual services to having personal documents taken from them, people can learn more about the disturbing crime and what they can do, should they be a victim of human trafficking. Reporting is fast and information can be shared with law enforcement and/or partner organizations.  

Because Texas shares a border with Mexico, Texas has become a place where much forced-labor occurs, especially in the agriculture industry. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates 25% of the 50,000+ people trafficked into the United States annually enter the country through Texas.  

Houston is ground zero for the state’s human trafficking caseload. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the state’s largest city is also one of the biggest hubs for human trafficking in the U.S. Houston reportedly has more than 200 brothels that depend on human trafficking.   

RELATED | Houston Airports employee trusts intuition, steps in to save human trafficking victim

Twentyfour-Seven, the organization behind the website, empowers the user to reach out for help on their website, request more information, or report suspicious activity. With one click on the website, it can also directly connect a user to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The data is stored in a fully encrypted database.  

People can call, text, chat online and report tips to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. In 2021, it received more than 50,000 signals of information. Of those calls, more than 3,500 were received by the Hotline in 2021 from Texas. Investigators were able to identify more than 1,700 victims of human trafficking, with a majority being victims of sex trafficking through illicit massage parlors or motels.  
“From advertising hotlines to leveraging technology to offer QR codes and training airport employees, it’s crucial that Houston Airports continues to evolve its strategies as the airport system fights to end human trafficking,” said Saba Abashawl, Chief External Affairs Officer for Houston Airports. “While it’s been described as an invisible crime, human trafficking is happening in our communities. Houston Airports exists to connect the people, businesses, cultures and economies of the world to Houston. In making those connections, it’s imperative that we’re doing everything possible to keep passengers safe, informed and empowered.”   

The QR code now featured on messaging strategically placed inside Houston’s airports was created by Tvsetelina Thompson, a young woman who was trafficked from Bulgaria to Holland. She’s now safe and living in Florida. Thompson describes the QR code as a tool she wished she had when she was trafficked. She didn’t know which country she was in and did not have a way to report her situation so she could be rescued. Thompson’s goal is to share the digital tool worldwide, so victims can report their circumstances, learn their rights and the laws that protect them and initiate a rescue.  

In October 2019, Houston Airports became the first airport system in the country to formally partner with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its Blue Lightning Initiative. Through the initiative, Houston Airports has trained more than 30,000 badged airport employees on how to identify and safely report human trafficking. The training continues.   

The commitment of Houston Airports to end human trafficking is why Houston Airports organized and hosted a panel discussion for 450 community members in November 2022.   

Report suspected human trafficking | 1-866-347-2423  

Learn more | Twentyfour-Seven.org  

What is human trafficking? | Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender or nationality.

Traffickers might use | violence, manipulation, false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.

People targeted by traffickers | Those with psychological or emotional vulnerabilities, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, victims of natural disasters and/or political instability