My Personal Human Trafficking Experience 

By Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP, HMCC, Sr. Director, Healthcare Compliance, Maritz Travel

This is not a good story.  This is not a happy story.  But it is a true story about a potential human trafficking incident that I experienced and, unfortunately, did not recognize until it was too late.

I want to preface my story with a serendipitous event that took place several hours before I left for the airport.  Maritz has learning modules on various relevant topics that all employees are required to take.  Some of these have deadlines and as I was finishing some last minute preparations, a reminder to take my learning module on Human Trafficking popped up.  I didn’t want to take the time but I didn’t want to miss the deadline so I took the learning module.

On August 8 around 12:00 noon I was boarding a flight on American Airlines from St. Louis, MO to Dallas, TX.  I was traveling to the MPI headquarters to do a Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate (HMCC) class.

While waiting to board, I noticed a young girl in a wheelchair who appeared to be very ill.  Her hair looked as if it had not been washed or combed in weeks and she was completely covered in a pink blanket.  Her travel companion was a woman who was dressed nicely.  As I boarded the plane, I was reminded of the line from the movie Casa Blanca – “of all the gin joints, she walked into mine” – as the girl in the wheelchair was seated in the middle seat of my row.

We were still in the pre-boarding stage when the girl in the middle seat slumped into my lap and began to convulse.  I immediately noticed that her tongue was beginning to roll back so I grabbed the wrist of a flight attendant, who was several rows behind me and told her that I thought the girl was having a seizure.  The flight attendants reacted immediately, as well as two doctors who were on the flight.  Fortunately for me, I was seated in the aisle seat so I was able to get up and allow room for attendants, fire department and EMT’s to work on her.  Not so fortunate was the man seated in the window seat.  He was unable to move and had to endure a lot of trauma.  He was amazing throughout the ordeal and helped as much as he could.

Throughout this ordeal, her travel companion, who was seated directly behind her, kept telling everyone that the girl was fine and just dehydrated, adding that she had taken an Advil before the flight.  I looked directly at her and thought to myself, “This girl is dying and her friend is trying to tell everyone to just leave her alone.”  Also odd: The healthcare workers were asking the friend questions about the girl; i.e. what drugs she had taken or whether she has any pre-existing conditions, etc.  The response from her” friend” was repeatedly, “I don’t know”.

Later, other facts stood out to me that I missed during the incident.  The friend was neatly dressed and wore false eyelashes.  I remember wondering how she had time to put eyelashes on; yet, her friend was such a mess.  Also, not once, did the “friend” unbuckle her own seat belt and talk to, or console, the girl.

My story does not end well.  I am not sure if the young girl lived or died. She had overdosed.  And I am fairly certain that this was a human trafficking incident.  All the signs that Maritz taught us were there.  I simply missed it.  I am not sure if being part of the trauma distracted me from some obvious facts or if I was second-guessing myself, asking the question, “What if I’m wrong, what if I’m wrong?”  The bigger question should have been, “What if I’m right?”

As we, within the hospitality industry, continue to be better educated on the topic of human trafficking, there will be more stories like mine.  I only hope that my message is loud and clear: “What if You Are Right?”


About the author

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