This month, newly-hired American Airlines flight attendants got the chance to dump freezing water over the head of their CEO minus the risk of being fired: They were taking part in the viral ice bucket challenge to raise funds and awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease. The trend of flight attendants having fun for a good cause continues next month as male and female travel workers from many of the major airlines will be running in recycled bridesmaids dresses as part of the Runaway Bridesmaids 1-mile fun run on September 27 to raise awareness and funds to help fight human trafficking.
“The Runaway Bridesmaids race provides a fun way for flight attendants to give back and raise awareness about an issue they are passionate about,” says Nancy Rivard, a former American Airlines flight attendant and founder of Airline Ambassadors International (AAI), an organization that’s helping to educate airport personnel on how to first identify sex traffickers and their victims and then report them to law enforcement officials. Seventy-five percent of proceeds from race registration for the 1-mile fun run taking place in Hoboken, NJ, will help to sponsor an anti-trafficking training program at Newark airport, a major hub of sex trafficking.
But why is it so important to train airport and airline staff on spotting signs of human trafficking? “Traffickers move their victims frequently to keep them powerless, and often use the speed and convenience of air travel. Airport and airline personnel are a first line of defense. Their tip can save a life, and this makes them feel good,” she says. “Most flight attendants care about children and those who are vulnerable. This training helps them to see their job as more than just about serving food, providing for flight safety or even making a paycheck … it is about making a difference.”
The problem is huge: Human trafficking is happening not only on the other side of the world, but also in our hometowns. If you need proof that sex trafficking is a local issue, then just look at the 2014 Super Bowl held in East Rutherford, NJ. About 84% of the ads for prostitution placed during the Super Bowl on Backpage.com in northern New Jersey, Manhattan, Staten Island and Brooklyn involved women being trafficked, according to a new study funded by the McCain Institute for International Leadership. Moreover, undercover FBI agents pretending to be ‘johns’ seeking sex arrested 45 pimps and rescued 16 children who were victims of sex trafficking.
Additional money raised during this year’s Runaway Bridesmaids’ run on Crowdrise.com/RunawayBridesmaids will help break the cycle of sex trafficking by supporting New Light, a shelter for the kids of sex workers in India’s biggest red light district (minimizing the vulnerability of another generation to the slave trade).
If you want to join the flight attendants in giving back, you can find out how to register for the race and start your own fundraiser on Crowdrise.com/RunawayBridesmaids. Bonus: Whoever raises the most money for the cause wins an Airline Ambassadors mission trip of their choice to Haiti, Colombia, or Guatemala.
By Holly C. Corbett
Holly C. Corbett is a part of a trio of female travelers known as The Lost Girls and a regular Girl Getaway contributor to TravelChannel.com. She has written for digital and print publications including USA Today, Redbook.com, Shape, Budget Travel, MensFitness.com and CondeNastTraveler.com. She’s happiest when she’s getting lost in a new place, diving with sharks in Belize or Borneo, and training for Runaway Bridesmaids—a charity race she founded that raises money to fight sex trafficking.