Rod Khattabi works in a beautiful place, but he brings people here to talk about some of the ugliest human behavior.
He recently brought hundreds of law enforcement professionals to New Canaan’s Grace Farms. This is a community center, but one that also has programs to make the whole world a better place.
“It’s a huge undertaking, but I think we’re ready for it,” he said.
Khattabi spent decades in federal law enforcement. He retired as head of Homeland Security in New Haven. His specialty since 2005 was human trafficking. That’s when one person holds another in forced labor.
Sometimes, that labor is cooking and cleaning. Sometimes it is sex. That industry has been growing for years, and it is happening all around us.
All races and genders can be victims.
“It’s the second-largest crime in the world and the fastest growing crime in the world. I believe it’s the number one human rights issue of our time,” Airline Ambassadors founder Nancy Rivard said.
Airline Ambassadors are airline employees who wanted to help orphans, but quickly found the importance of being eyes in the sky.
“Our small team correctly identified trafficking on four different airlines, two out of the Dominican Republic,” Rivard said.
Now, she works with Khattabi, training people around the world how to spot human trafficking, especially when traveling.
“Are they under the control of someone else? Are they frightened, ashamed or nervous? Do they have branding, tattoos or bruises on their bodies?” She asked.
It’s not just at airports, but bus stations and train stations, too. Traffickers use these places to move their victims all the time.
So, when you’re in a place like this, look for a couple that doesn’t look quite right.
One person is in charge, and the other is not happy.
“If something doesn’t feel right in your gut, it probably isn’t,” Rivard said.
Khattabi said some traffickers coerce their victims with violence and fear. Others do it through gifts. In a case in Norwalk, a man groomed three teenage girls as prostitutes. They thought they were like a family.
“When I interviewed the 14-year-old girl, the victim, she couldn’t believe she was victimized. She didn’t want to believe it,” Khattabi said.
That can make it tough to spot victims. It is state law that people in the hotel industry have to get training like this in how to spot human trafficking, but in the age of the internet, sex for hire is all arranged online and can happen anywhere.
That’s why Khattabi is looking to expand Grace Farms’ education efforts and try to stop all that ugliness.
And more and more lives need saving every year.
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