SLC Airport won't allow non-profit group to advertise against human trafficking

An advertisement warning travelers how to spot human trafficking in the Atlanta International Airport

(KUTV) If an ad could stop women and kids from being abused, you'd likely support it. But the call came to Get Gephardt from a group that says Salt Lake City is refusing to let them put up such an ad.

The group is the Junior League of Salt Lake City. It's a non-profit group that is working hard to try and stamp out human trafficking, a crime that often occurs at airports.

They approached the airport about buying ad space to show travelers how to spot the signs that someone may be being trafficked like refusing to make eye contact, looking disheveled, not being allowed to hold their own travel documents or being unaware of where they are.

Kori Renwick, the Junior League’s community impact director, says the airport told them, “no.” Advertising space is reserved exclusively for people looking to sell a product. They don’t allow informational campaigns.

“It's essentially saying that our money is not as good as the money of a commercial entity,” Renwick said. “It's not a matter of money it's a matter of the message.”

Renwick says Junior League members are frustrated, especially because similar ad campaigns are allowed, and are currently working, at other airports around the U.S.

“[Sex Trafficking] is very prominent problem that does exist here," Renwick said.


RELATED: 'These are girls from our own back yards,' FBI says disbelief enables sex trafficking


When it comes to adverting, each airport sets its own policy. Salt Lake City’s policy is to avoid controversy and err on the side of not offending anybody, says airport spokesperson Nancy Volmer.

“It can get really sticky, to be honest with you,” she said. “As you can imagine, depending on if it's a political message, a religious message, there's so many different types of messaging out there, and if you allow one you have to allow the other.”

The battle between airports and non-profits trying to advertise is neither new, nor unique to Utah.

In 1992, a religious group sued New York City’s airports when the group was blocked from advertising. In that case, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the airport won and was allowed to halt the advertising.

Just two year ago, the NAACP won a lawsuit against the Philadelphia airport – a federal judge ruling the group must be allowed to buy ad space if it wants.

In Utah, no lawsuit will be necessary to settle this dispute. After Get Gephardt’s calls to the airport, the Junior League was invited to meet with the newly appointed airport director.

The airport is not relenting and letting the Junior League buy ad space, however, after learning more about the issue of human trafficking, the airport has decided it will run its own awareness campaign.

The SLC airport has several, what they call, "free speech zones." They are desks in each of the terminals’ baggage claim areas that can be rented by just about anybody to deliver just about any message.

The official rule remains that if you want to put an ad on the wall, you need to be selling something.

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