The Unwilling Partnership Between Human Trafficking and The Hotel Industry

Human Trafficking in Hotels

Human trafficking is a global issue that affects millions of people worldwide.  According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 24.9 million people are victims of human trafficking across the globe and 92% of calls received from hotels were reporting human trafficking.  The United States government defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor against his or her will.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that as much as 17,500 people are trafficked within the United States each year.  Experts are reporting that human trafficking is often unreported and underreported, and it is believed that the number of victims far exceed the estimates.  In 2015, 1,923 perpetrators were referred to the U.S. Attorney for prosecution and it is believed that these only represent 14 to 18 precent of the actual crimes being committed.  To date the National Human Trafficking Hotline has identified 63,380 instances of human trafficking, so there needs to be a lot of work done by the hotel industry to help in its prevention.

The Role of the Hotel Industry

Unfortunately, the hospitality industry has become an unwilling participate in the human trafficking operation and most hotels are unaware of how far reaching and prevalent human trafficking is.  Most traffickers utilize hotels to exploit their victims and any number of hotels could be used.  When looking for hotels, most traffickers look for convenience in location, they also cater to their “buyers’” comfort and are surprisingly knowledgeable about the different hotel policies that would allow them to draw the least amount of suspicion.  Traffickers also look for busy and large hotels where they can blend in without generating interest.  Hotels can be used for what is referred to as “in calls” or “out calls” in the human trafficking world.  “In calls” are when traffickers book hotels where the victims are located, and the “buyers” come in and out.  “Out calls” are when victims are delivered to the “buyers” location, which most of the times are in hotels.  Many of these victims are moved to numerous hotels and locations and the internet has facilitated this operation by allowing many traffickers to remain anonymous.  The International Labor Organization reported that human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar industry that is operating all around us.

The Appeal of Hotels to Traffickers

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Most perpetrators operate away from home while they are traveling, so the use of hotels is essential.  Perpetrators do not necessarily have a penchant for small and seedy motels/ hotels as one might assume.  Jared Fogle the former Subway spokesperson that appeared in numerous commercials promoting Subway sandwiches, was arrested in 2015 for incidences involving underage children.  In each of these incidences, Fogle met with his victims at the Ritz hotel and the Plaza hotel.  Incidences of human trafficking can take place anywhere and ranges from luxury hotels to economy hotels.  The use of hotels is prevalent within the human trafficking world, in a study done by the Polaris Project, an organization dedicated to combatting human trafficking, it was reported that 80 percent of commercial sex took place at hotels.  And 75 percent of victims reported coming in contact with a hotel during the course of their victimization.

Recommendations From the Polaris Foundation on How to Combat Human Trafficking

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Human trafficking is a global issue and hotels will have to treat it with the importance that it deserves.  And this involves training staff on how to spot possible human trafficking, what steps to take if such activity is suspected and what resources are available to victims.  Human trafficking affects millions of people worldwide and it is imperative that hotels do their part to combat it.  Hotels need to become familiar with organizations like, Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P.), which partners with select hotels to distribute bars of soap with the contact information for the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Formally Adopt a Company-Wide Anti-Trafficking Policy

Hotels need to show their commitment to the prevention of human trafficking and that starts with adopting a formal policy that is implemented and that is in compliance with the appropriate laws.  It is important that staff recognize the importance of following these policies and hotels can refer to the Code of Conduct for Protection of Children form Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (The Code) and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, on how to create such policies.

Local Shelter Support

It’s imperative that hotels form a relationship with local shelters that support victims of human trafficking.  Hotels can form partnerships with shelters to come up with policies on steps to take during a crisis, such as a shortage of beds or unavailability of resources at the shelter.

Train Staff on What to Look For and How to Respond

Training is crucial in order to have staff be prepared to handle the issue of human trafficking.  Well trained and prepared staff are less likely to misunderstand and misidentify cases that are not related to human trafficking.  Hotels should adopt a policy of training employees during the hiring process, as well as conducting mandatory annual trainings for employees at all levels.  The Polaris Foundation recommends that whenever possible, training should be conducted by human trafficking survivors.  Survivors have a wealth of knowledge regarding the world of human trafficking and can be an asset to hotel employees.  Hotel owners and associations should adopt a policy that requires all members to have a human trafficking policy in place.

Establish a Response Plan Involving a Safe Reporting Mechanism

Having a clear policy on human trafficking will help employees to effectively address it, when the need arises.  There are a number of ways in which hotels can choose to report suspected incidences of human trafficking.  There is an option to get law enforcement directly involved and some may choose to contact the National Human Trafficking hotline for guidance.  The National Human Trafficking hotline has the experience to handle each individual circumstance appropriately but contacting law enforcement is also a very valuable option in aiding the victims.

Use Data From Hotel and Booking Sites for Identification

Many perpetrators of human trafficking will use third party sites such as Expedia or Priceline to book their hotel stays and data from these sites can help in identifying such individuals.  The use of data from these sites can be used to research the user’s identity and also to check them against purchases at known commercial sex websites.

Human Trafficking Hotels Survey

Post the National Human Trafficking Hotline for Victims to Access

According to many organizations, victims of human trafficking are often kept in isolation and giving them access to lifesaving information can be difficult.  It’s important to place information about human trafficking in areas that victims will have access to.  Contact information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline can be posted on idle television screens, in concierge binders, inside nightstands, on soap or lotion bottles and on hotel vending machines.

Advocate for Appropriate Hotel-Related Legislation

The industry needs to advocate for legislation that would require all hotel employees to be trained on identifying and responding to potential human trafficking situations.  In 2016 Connecticut passed a statewide law mandating that all hotel and motel staff receive training on how to recognize victims and activities associated with human trafficking.  This law also requires hotels and motels to keep a record of all transactions and to post notices with information regarding human trafficking on their premises.

We Can Learn From the Past

Ray Baum’s Act and Kari’s law became effective in February of 2020 and required that hotels upgrade their phone systems to enable the direct dialing of 911.  Kari Hunt lost her life as a result of not being able to directly access critical emergency services from the hotel phone, which resulted in delays in getting her the assistance that she needed.  As a result, hotels are required to upgrade their phone systems to prevent incidences like this from occurring in the future.  58% of hotel workers reported being sexually harassed or assaulted while at work.  As a result of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assaults while at work, many hotels have successfully implemented employee staff alert/panic buttons to help protect employees.  Many cities and states have passed panic button laws that require hotels to provide panic buttons so that staff can alert security during an emergency.  These panic button devices can detect precise locations in the event of an emergency and have the ability to send the appropriate emergency response within minutes.  Coupled with human trafficking training, panic buttons can also help employees alert the proper authorities in suspected cases of human trafficking.   In both of these situations, the hotel industry took steps in combatting serious issues and the same should be done regarding human trafficking.

We Need to Take This Small Step In Addressing a Giant Issue

Human Trafficking Hotels Help

The partnership between human trafficking and the hotel industry needs to be dismantled, those in the hotel business have an obligation to advocate for laws that would combat the practice of human trafficking.  There are millions of human trafficking victims in the world and the perpetrators are running a multibillion-dollar industry.  Many of the victims are vulnerable women, men and children who are being exploited on hotel property.  Legislature would ensure that training is mandated for all staff and that they are equipped with the knowledge to identify incidences of human trafficking and to get victims the support they need.  Advocating for legislation is a way for the hotel industry to let victims know that they are not alone in the fight for their lives.

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