Hotel and Motel Workers on Guard for Signs of Human Trafficking

2013 Law Finally Kicks In
May 09, 2018

Hotel and motel workers are now on the front lines of New Jersey’s battle against human trafficking. A few weeks ago, area hotels and motels, as did similar establishments throughout the state, received training tools from the N.J. Office of the Attorney General Division of Criminal Justice’s N.J. Human Trafficking Task Force explaining how to identify possible human traffickers.

“Red Flag” posters laid out a number of warning signs:

• An individual checks in with multiple young guests, does not have luggage, and leaves the hotel. Most common example is a man who checks in with numerous girls unrelated to him who appear very young, possibly underage.

• The individual may have numerous rooms reserved for one night. Rooms may be paid for with cash.

• Within the group of guests checking in there may be one person who appears very controlling over the rest of the group and will not let the others in the group speak.

• Sometimes the guest(s) may come on to various men during the check-in process.

• The guest(s) staying in the hotel may not have any luggage or personal items.

• The guests(s) left in the room may seem confused about their own name(s), may appear helpless, ashamed, nervous or disorientated.

• Conversations with the guest(s) seem very scripted and/or vague.

• The guest(s) might exhibit signs of physical abuse such as: bruises, burns, scars, and/or malnourishment.

• The guest(s) may have tattoos that reflect money or ownership.

• The guest(s) may not have any spending money or identification, may not make eye contact, and may wear clothes printed with slogans such as “Daddy’s Girl” or clothing that is inappropriate for the weather.

• Note: Human trafficking victims typically will not admit that they are victims, and may not ask for help.

Most importantly, the posters include the phone number for the state’s human trafficking hotline: 855-END-NJ-HT (855-363-6548).

Hotels were also provided with a link to a short training video – in both English and Spanish – that front desk staff, housekeepers, maintenance staff and security officers are required to watch and sign off on. Hotel owners or designated management must complete a certification on a form provided by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs attesting to all above employees having watched the video. That form must be attached to any applications for a certificate of inspection.

The video defined human trafficking as “the illegal trade of human beings against their will for the purposes of sexual exploitation or modern-day slavery.” It went on to say that human trafficking is second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable illegal enterprise in the world, with 600,000 to 800,000 individuals trafficked over national borders every year.

It gave two examples of human trafficking tip-offs. One involved a front desk clerk receiving a phone call from a room. Its occupant didn’t want maid service; instead he wanted to know if the hotel could provide high-grade video cameras for his use. When the clerk called housekeeping, he was told that maids had noticed men coming and going to the room in question at all hours. Finally, men started showing up at the front desk looking for directions to that room.

In the second example, an older, gray-bearded man was checking into a hotel, accompanied by two foreign-looking young women/girls. He did all the talking and told the girls to shut up when they started whispering to each other. As they left the lobby, one of the girls looked back at the clerk with pleading, frightened eyes.

But the video also told hotel workers not to overreact. After all, the man in question could have been a grandparent who was tired from a long drive and was simply annoyed by their chattering during check-in.

Instead of confronting the man at the time, hotel workers were instructed to bring the incident to the attention of management or security and to document their concerns.

Health Care Workers

Must Also Be Trained

The New Jersey Human Trafficking Task Force has devised similar but specific-to-the-industry “Red Flag” posters for a number of industries, including school administrators and staff, airline and airport workers, EMS, fire department, law enforcement and other emergency care professionals, health care providers and taxi, limousine and public transportation drivers. And the task force was busy before the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, organizing human trafficking awareness training sessions for hotel, restaurant and nightclub workers, taxicab drivers and bus and train station employees in the area surrounding the stadium. Super Bowls attract many thousands of men with a lot of money in their wallets (think of the cost of a Super Bowl ticket), men who may be seeking, female “companionship” over the weekend of the big game.

But The SandPaper could find evidence of only one other group of private employees in New Jersey besides hotel workers who are required to take such training today – health care workers who have direct contact with patients and their visitors employed or volunteering at any licensed health care facility in the state.

Interestingly, both hotel and health care workers are required to do so because of a bill signed into law by former Gov. Chris Christie in May 2013. Obviously, with the Super Bowl approaching, human trafficking was on the minds of lawmakers.

So why are hotel employees only now being trained on how to identify possible human traffickers? Blame it on bureaucracy. The law required the Department of Community Affairs to “develop, approve, and provide for a one-time training course on the handling and response procedures of suspected human trafficking activities for owners, operators, and staff of hotels and motels.” The department didn’t approve and provide for such a course until this past winter. The Department of Health, handed the same legislative charge for employees of health care facilities, acted more quickly than the Department of Community Affairs but not that much more quickly. It didn’t open up its proposed rules to public comment until October 2016.

The law concerning hotel and motel employees is attracting interest from other states. Connecticut became the first state in the union to require such training, starting in 2016, although it passed its law a few years later than New Jersey. New York and California are also considering similar legislation.

New Jersey, on the other hand, lags behind some other states and municipalities when requiring human trafficking awareness training of workers in other industries.

Arkansas, Ohio and Colorado already have laws on the books requiring drivers holding CDL licenses to undergo such training; last October, Wisconsin introduced a bill mandating truck driving schools to include human trafficking awareness training in their curriculum while Texas already does so. The reasoning behind such laws is that truckers spend an inordinate amount of time in rest stops and motels, places where human trafficking could be observed.

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission requires all cab, limo, Uber and Lyft drivers to take human trafficking awareness training.

Expect human trafficking awareness training to be required in more industries both in New Jersey and around the country as not-for-profits, such as Washington, D.C.-based Polaris and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking in Los Angeles push lawmakers to address the issue.

— Rick Mellerup

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