Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

A 21-year-old US woman was moments away from falling into the clutches of a human trafficking gang when a chance encounter led to the chilling scheme unravelling.

The woman had been dropped off by her mother at Huntsville International Airport in Alabama, head full of dreams planted by a "modelling agency" which had bought her tickets to Phoenix, Arizona, with the promise of lucrative work.

After she dropped her daughter off, the mother became lost in the airport and was unable to find which floor she had parked her car on.

It was then she ran into Jana Kuner, customer services manager for the airport.

Kuner told WHNT19 News: "It was a normal day, I was walking back to the office."

She said she noticed the mother looking panicked and lost.

"It was a lady who had lost her car in the parking garage," Kuner said. "She couldn't remember what floor she was on, she was frantic."

After Kuner offered to walk her to her car, the pair began talking and the mother soon revealed the reason for her trip to the airport and shared her excitement about her daughter's modelling prospects.

Jana Kuner. Photo / WHNT

Recalling a recent training session on human trafficking, Kuner recognised the lure of modelling jobs as a well-known tactic of human traffickers.

When the mother described her daughter's physical features, saying she was "beautiful" and "petite" - so small she could fit into children's sizes - Kuner knew that something was deeply wrong.

"That doesn't sound like a normal model," she told WHNT.

Kuner went to the gate with airport security and found the young woman.

As they spoke, the young woman's phone was flooded by text messages from the group that had bought her tickets.

The messages read: "Where are you? Have you boarded? Are you alone?"

She convinced the young woman to let her call the "agents" and tell them that when she arrived in Phoenix, she would be met by a police escort.

"The intent was hopefully, if it wasn't a legit operation, they won't go through with it," Kuner said.

It worked.

Immediately after she boarded the plane, the young woman received texts from the "agency" saying they had cancelled the tickets.

After she left the plane, the US Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration became involving and quickly ascertained that the "modelling agency" was a front for a group of known human traffickers.

Authorities now believe the woman had already been sold before boarding the plane.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced that they would be dedicating a new White House position to the issue of human trafficking.

Surrounded by survivors, administration officials and members of Congress, Trump signed an executive order creating the position at the conclusion of a White House summit on the issue.

He declared his administration "100 per cent committed to eradicating human trafficking from the earth", and called the practice a form of "modern-day slavery".

Trump has sought to elevate human trafficking since taking office by speaking publicly about the issue and inviting reporters into his White House meetings with victims and anti-trafficking advocates.

The executive order also expanded prevention education programmes, promoted housing opportunities for survivors and prioritised the removal of child sexual abuse material from the internet.

- Additional reporting, AP

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