By David DeMoss
Human trafficking is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world, with approximately 17,500 persons being trafficked in the United States each year alone. Hotels and motels are unfortunately a common location for commercial sex exchange, and the California legislature are working very hard to address and prevent future human trafficking.
In the Fall of 2019, the California legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 970, which requires California hotel and motel employers to provide 20 minutes of human trafficking awareness training to employees who are likely to interact with those types of situations. This includes reception, housekeepers, bellhops, drivers, and others. The training must include definitions of human trafficking and commercial exploitation of children (CEC/CSEC), the difference between sex and labor trafficking, how to identify individuals most at risk, how to report and respond to any suspected human trafficking, and the contact information of the appropriate agencies. These situations can be hard to recognize at first, but with proper training, hotel and motel employees have a much greater chance of acknowledging them and knowing how to intervene. More details from Megan Walker below.
Human trafficking is the fastest-growing organized crime business and the third largest criminal enterprise in the world. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that approximately 17,500 persons are trafficked into the United States every year, and the FBI ranks human trafficking as the second most profitable criminal enterprise, following drug trafficking and tied with arms trafficking. Lawmakers have taken notice.
The California legislature in particular has been active in passing several pieces of legislation to address and prevent human trafficking. Hospitality employers are likely already familiar with the poster requirement on the topic. Now there is a required employee training component as well.
New Training Requirements
Last fall, with support from the California Hotel and Lodging Association, the California legislature passed SB 970, which requires hotel and motel employers in California to provide 20 minutes of human trafficking awareness training to all employees who are “likely to interact or come into contact with victims of human trafficking.” Those employees include those who work in reception, housekeepers, bellhops, drivers, and others.
The training must include:
- Definitions of: “Human Trafficking” and “Commercial Exploitation of Children” (CEC or CSEC);
- How to identify individuals most at-risk for human trafficking;
- The difference between sex trafficking and labor trafficking in the hotel sector;
- How to report and respond to suspected human trafficking; and
- The contact information of appropriate agencies, including the National Trafficking Hotline toll-free number (888) 373-7888) and text number (233733), as well as local law enforcement.
The bill requires employers to give the training by Jan. 1, 2020, to each new employee within six months of their employment in a qualifying role, and then every two years thereafter.
The risk of non-compliance with the statute appears relatively low under the law: a failure to provide the training can result in an order requiring compliance. However, no establishment wants to become the go-to location for trafficking activities. As such, even before the law was put into place, some large hotel chains already implemented human trafficking awareness training for their employees.
What Is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person to provide services, labor, or commercial sex against their will. Human trafficking also includes inducing a minor into commercial sex, even without force, fraud, or coercion.
Human trafficking is typically divided into two categories: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Some situations can present a combination of both. Sex trafficking is a type of commercial sex where the person performing the sex act lacks some measure of autonomy over the exchange. Labor trafficking involves work that might otherwise be legal if the worker was performing it voluntarily, for lawful wages, and under safe and lawful conditions, such as certain agriculture work, domestic work, or sales. In both scenarios, the trafficked person lacks a level of choice in the matter.
Recognizing that a trafficked person lacks autonomy is not always clear cut. Rather than use physical bindings to exert control, traffickers often use various psychological means to exert their control, such as intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, various threats (to the person or their family), and “gaslighting” activities to convince their victims that the situation is normal.
Typically, traffickers recognize a vulnerability in their potential victims-such as a lack of confidence, a low financial means, a desire to leave an abusive situation, or a lack of legal immigration status-and will then exploit that vulnerability to coerce the individual to perform work for them or on their behalf.
Trafficking in Hotels and Motels
The hospitality industry is well-positioned to report suspected human trafficking activity. As the author of SB970 wrote, “hotels are ground zero for all forms of human trafficking in [California].” Indeed, travel invites images of trafficking. Anytime a large-scale event occurs in a city, such as the Super Bowl, local media alert their communities of the risks of human trafficking, and law enforcement increase their presence and conduct more sting operations.
However, trafficking occurs all the time, and not all who engage in trafficking activities in hotels and motels are out-of-towners. 72 percent of human trafficking victims identified in California are Americans. Trafficking-even purely local trafficking-occurs in hotels and motels in part because hotels and motels sell short-term privacy.
As is widely known, sex traffickers often use hotel and motel rooms as the location of the commercial sex exchange. In severe cases, hotels and motels that have been a hotbed for such activity have been ordered closed or their owners barred from continuing to manage the properties. Raids of hotels and motels by law enforcement agencies have also resulted in the rescue of several trafficking victims at a time.
However, labor traffickers, too, frequent hotels and motels. For example, traveling sales crews (which have been around for decades) recruit young adults with a promise of traveling the country, adventure, and easy money in exchange for selling magazines, candy, or cleaning products. However, the sales crews are then subjected to dangerous working conditions and threatened with violence if they attempt to leave. Often, these traveling sales crews will stay in hotels and motels with more individuals housed in a room than fire codes permit.
Traffickers of domestic workers (nannies, housekeepers, etc.) may also bring their victim(s) with them when they travel as well. The key distinction between lawful domestic workers traveling with their employers and trafficking victims is the exertion of force, fraud, or coercion over the latter.
Because hotel and motel staff may be the only people who see or interact with the victims aside from their traffickers, lawmakers and industry groups alike hope that proper training will help identify criminal activity that would otherwise fly under the radar.
While human trafficking can materialize in many ways, in every situation, there will be an individual exerting control to limit the freedom of another. Some signs that could indicate an individual is a victim of human trafficking include:
- They appear anxious, tense, nervous, and/or fearful. If an adult is being trafficked, the trafficker will use force, fraud, or coercion. While a tense dynamic between two individuals could occur for any number of reasons, it could likely be the first signal of an uneven power dynamic.
- They exhibit signs of poor hygiene or malnourishment. Trafficked individuals are subject to a certain level of control by their traffickers. This could include control over their diet.
- They have few or none of their own possessions. One person exhibiting control over another person’s belongings could also indicate that person’s control over the other person.
- They do not have control over their own identification documents. Particularly when the trafficked person is not a citizen of the country where they reside, traffickers use threat of deportation as a means of coercion in order to keep their victim under their control. However, even when the trafficked person is a citizen, their trafficker may maintain control over the victim’s travel and identification documents as a means of limiting their victim’s freedom.
- They are not permitted to speak on their own behalf. Control over another’s speech is another example of the type of control a trafficker might exert over their victims.
- A minor appears to be engaging in sex work. Unlike trafficking involving adult victims, an element of force, fraud, or coercion is not required when a minor is engaged in commercial sex. Accordingly, if a minor is traveling with false identification documents and/or has an unconventional traveling companion, that could signal an exploitative relationship.
- They are not allowed breaks and/or they are subject to other unusually strict working conditions. While hotel workers might not witness a trafficked person’s full day, restrictions on freedom that appear one-sided could indicate a trafficking dynamic.
- They are subjected to verbal or physical abuse. There can be an intersection between domestic violence and human trafficking, and because both domestic violence and human trafficking involve exertion of control by one party over the other, what may look like an abusive romantic relationship could instead (or also) be a sign of human trafficking.
It is rare that a trafficking situation will present itself clearly. However, the better informed employees are to understand what real trafficking scenarios look like, the better they will be able to intervene.
In order to ensure that your employees are empowered with the tools needed to eliminate human trafficking from your properties (and to comply with the new law), California hotel and motel employers should be sure to schedule the required training to take place by the end of this year. However, even where the training is not required, hotel and motel employers can benefit from arming their employees with the knowledge to spot and root out trafficking at their properties.