Bright Idea: Prevent Trafficking by Reaching out to Transportation and Hospitality Providers

Woman working in a coffee shop.

A hotel desk clerk checks in a man and much younger woman with no luggage and a request for a room by the exit. A truck driver dismisses a girl who approaches him while he fills up his gas tank as just another “lot lizard.”

Every day, employees in the hospitality and transportation industries may come across young people being trafficked without recognizing the signs of sexual exploitation or knowing how to help. In the growing efforts to identify victims and help them get the services they need, targeting these hotspots is a key strategy, say anti-trafficking advocates. And runaway and homeless youth providers are in a prime position to form local partnerships and point youth to safe alternatives.

Building a Network of 'Eyes and Ears' Against Trafficking

Already, anti-trafficking advocate ECPAT-USA partners with hospitality providers across the country to show how they can prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of youth. The organization offers online and in-person trainings to educate hotel staff on the dangers of trafficking and signs it might be happening within their walls.

“Basically, the Internet has pushed trafficking off the streets and behind the closed doors of hotels,” says Michelle Guelbart, director of private sector engagement. “Because hotels seem anonymous to traffickers and they feel that it’s risk-free, they’re continuing to run their businesses in hotels or meeting buyers there.”

Modules are designed for staff ranging from managers to security guards so they can learn what to do if they spot a young person who is scared or disoriented, for example, and how to reach out to local police or notify their supervisor. Part of ECPAT-USA’s work, Guelbart adds, is helping hotels come up with a protocol for reporting trafficking concerns so that properties can respond consistently and develop strong relationships with local law enforcement.

Similarly, Truckers Against Trafficking aims to mobilize truck stop managers and drivers against trafficking by teaching them how they can be the “eyes and ears of our nation’s highway,” says Executive Director Kendis Paris. The agency provides wallet cards that teach drivers about common red flags such as cars parked in truck-only areas, and encourages them to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

How Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs Can Help

Guelbart and Paris agree that runaway and homeless youth providers can take similar steps to raise awareness among the transportation and hospitality industries in their communities and educate employees about how they can help. Here are four tips:

  1. Become a patron. Make yourself a familiar face by buying gas or stopping for lunch at your local truck stop, Paris says, before scheduling a meeting. Similarly, agencies looking to plan a meeting or event at a local hotel can talk about trafficking while booking those contracts.
  2. Make trafficking a local issue. Many people think of trafficking as something that happens somewhere else. Approaching businesses with stories of exploitation that took place at a competitor or other familiar landmark may change their minds.
  3. Empower, don’t judge. According to Paris, explaining how local businesses can help end trafficking is far more effective than making them feel like they are part of the problem. Runaway and homeless youth programs should also provide ideas for other ways to get involved such as joining a local task force or hosting a community forum.
  4. Put yourself in their shoes. Public reputation matters in the hospitality industry, Guelbart says, so it helps to explain how anti-trafficking protocols can help hotels run more smoothly and reduce the chances of illegal activities occurring on site. The transportation industry includes many roles that don't require regular travel, Paris adds, so raising awareness can create a network of truck stop managers, waitresses and others who seek to improve their communities.
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