She got into the job more than four decades ago to travel the world, to flex her schedule, to experience — basically for the freedom.
So Michele Klein can’t sit still while others are anything but free.
Klein is part of Airline Ambassadors International. The nonprofit group affiliated with the United Nations started as flight attendants but now includes people from a variety of occupations. It has a variety of civic goals. One is to stop human trafficking.
A Fort Mill resident, Klein wants to bring human trafficking awareness training to the Charlotte area.
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“Us working as flight attendants can recognize certain things,” she said. “People who work in the public is mainly what we want. Hotel people. People who work in restaurants. Anyone who works with the public.”
To do it, Klein’s group is hosting a fundraiser at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church on June 10. The 3 p.m. event will have an update on state efforts to combat trafficking from state Rep. Raye Felder (R, Dist. 26), and a screening of the movie “Sold.” Pizza and popcorn will be for sale. A similar event may be planned in Rock Hill later to help reach the $3,000 goal.
“We go city to city and work with people on a two-day training on how to recognize human trafficking,” Klein said. “We do it at our own expense, but we have to pay the survivors who speak.”
Everyone from restaurant managers to law enforcement have taken the training. In many areas, an uptick in arrests followed a training event.
“We open our training up to anyone,” Klein said. “We did one in Houston and we even had the police force there. We had the sheriff's office. We had people there who would be working the Super Bowl.”
There are several kinds of trafficking. Many are familiar with sex trafficking, but other cases involve people taken for agricultural or domestic work.
“In our area, it’s mainly sex trafficking,” Klein said, particularly of Charlotte. “We are No. 2 in the South. Atlanta is no. 1. In the nation, we are No. 10. Which is scary.”
One main reason, she said, is income demographics.
“The reason it’s so big here is because of the money,” Klein said. “We're a country where people have money. Unfortunately, there's a demand for it.”
While some might guess poorer areas of this country are more likely to produce trafficking victims, Klein said it isn’t the case.
“(Traffickers) will groom you on the computer,” she said. “They know what to say to you. They know what you want.”
If anything, more affluent areas can face dangers poorer areas might not. Which concerns Klein as she considers a prosperous area like Fort Mill.
“The way we're growing, and the parents working, we have some people with some money here,” she said. “Today, they don't go after the poorer schools. They go after the kids in the wealthier neighborhoods because they have more money for drugs. It all goes back to the money.”
Airports are key
The Charlotte area training likely will be near or in the airport there. Airline Ambassadors wants to work with airport security, airport police and people from the hotels and restaurants near the airport since they are likeliest to come across cases of trafficking. But, Klein said, the training will be helpful for anyone.
“And, we want to train the parents,” she said. “Monitor what your kids are doing on that computer. And who their friends are on that computer.”
Communications platform company Ooma recently put out a study on internet screen time among children, and ways parents can keep children safe online. The study found 91 percent of teens 13-17 use the internet via cell phones or other mobile devices and 56 percent of children 8-12 have their own cell phones. Children 8 and younger use smartphones at a 21 percent rate, and 38 percent of children 2 and younger have used a mobile device.
The Justice Project has a Fort Mill address, though the couple running it operates out of Germany. Once Charlotte realtors, the two moved to Germany, where prostitution is legal, seven years ago. They routinely go into red light districts and meet women working there. The couple offers help for women who often aren’t sure how they got into the the sex trade — or how to get out.
“It was a pretty big transition, but we had always known we wanted to do something,” said one Justice Project leader who didn’t give her name due to security concerns. “We wanted to do something more with our lives.”
The Fort Mill address is part of ongoing fundraising and awareness events where a stateside presence is needed. Justice Project works with Justice Ministries in Charlotte, one of more than a dozen public and private groups combating trafficking in the city. Many of them are part of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Human Trafficking Task Force.
“In the Charlotte area, on the ground there, there's a good effort,” the Justice Project leader said. “I feel like there's been a definite increase (in anti-trafficking forces).”
There is more information in the area today than when the two real estate agents moved to Germany seven years ago.
“Definitely over the last seven years the information, raising awareness, has picked up,” the leader said. “If you were to ask a crowd of people, ‘have you heard of human trafficking?’ a majority of people would have.”
The next step is getting people to act. Which, for Klein, starts with a movie in Fort Mill.
“We're just trying to get the whole community out there, so we can bring the training to Charlotte,” she said.
For more on Klein’s organization and its efforts, visit airlineamb.org.
Want to go?
Airline Ambassadors International is showing the film “Sold” to raise awareness of human trafficking and raise money for training public sessions that can help those interested identify thosed involved in trafficking. The film will be shown 3 p.m. June 10 at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, 292 Munn Road, Fort Mill. Admission is free, but pizza and popcorn will be for sale with the proceeds going toward the cost of training sessions.