Within the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been another crisis brewing. While hotels have been grappling with budget shortfalls, staff furloughs, and social distancing guidelines—human traffickers have not taken a break while California has been under a shelter-in-place order. Human trafficking is a crime that thrives on vulnerability, and the current pandemic, as well as its resulting economic effect, is making more people vulnerable.
Often, trafficking victims are first exploited as minors. According to the nonprofit organization, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking, the average age of youth to enter into prostitution is between 13–15 years old. The current crisis is causing children to be more isolated at home and spend more time online. At the same time, more Americans are experiencing financial vulnerability. These two realities are making it easier for traffickers to find and groom new victims. So, when tourism begins to reopen and more guests return to hotels as the state eases restrictions, it is essential that hotel security personnel and employees are observant to be able to spot the warning signs of human trafficking.
The California Hotel & Lodging Association (CHLA) has partnered with Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) to provide members with free, easy access to online human trafficking awareness training. This training can be taken through the CHLA member website, making it compliable with social distancing requirements. When new staff members are hired, it is essential they each receive this important training.
Here are some reminders for security personnel as hotels across the state welcome back guests.
What Is Human Trafficking?
Sex trafficking is the prostituting of a minor or the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel an adult into commercial sex work. In 2015, the federal definition of sex trafficking expanded to include sex buyers—those who contribute to the exploitation of vulnerable people by purchasing sex.
Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjecting a person to involuntary servitude, debt bondage, or slavery.
Who Are the Victims?
Victims can be anyone—male, female, transgender; of any ethnic group; foreign immigrant or US citizen; and victims can be any age, income, or education level. The common thread for human trafficking victims is their vulnerability. This can be a result of homelessness, unemployment, an unstable home environment, a past history of abuse, a disability, having run away from home, or people who have been tricked into believing they are going to gain an opportunity for a better life.
Who Are the Traffickers?
As with human trafficking victims, there is no one way to describe human traffickers. They can be young or old, male or female, and of any nationality or ethnic background. The key is traffickers are intent on exploiting the vulnerabilities of others for the purpose of commercial gain. Traffickers are not necessarily strangers or casual acquaintances of the victims. Some traffickers can be family members, intimate partners, or long-time friends of victims.
Tips for Security Personnel
While investigating human trafficking incidents, it is important for security personnel to understand some of the tactics used by traffickers. These include threats or use of violence towards the victim or the victim’s family, threatening deportation, restriction of contact with others, making false promises, or depriving the victim of basic needs. These tactics can result in victims being reluctant or unwilling to talk with security personnel, and victims may not ask for help.
It’s also important to keep in mind that adults who are coerced or forced into commercial sexual activities are not criminals, and they should be treated as victims and put in touch with social service agencies who can get them connected to help. Anytime a child is involved in a commercial sex act, it is considered sex trafficking, and law enforcement should be contacted immediately if a child is in danger.
All hotel security personnel should be trained in human trafficking prevention so if they have a situation involving human trafficking, they will have the knowledge, skills, and ability to recognize the situation and take appropriate action to intervene.
Katie Amodei is the communications manager for the nonprofit, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking.