Traffickers are experts at remaining invisible.
Much of their success lies in a transient lifestyle–always moving from place to place and continually crossing borders. In general, they don’t keep their victims in one place for long. According to law enforcement officials, hotels and motels are some of their favorite spots to do business. This is definitely true for Michigan–in 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported that the top venue for sex trafficking was hotel/motel-based.
The privacy and anonymity of these places attracts both traffickers and customers, and the staff are not always educated on how to recognize the signs. Cases are more typical in the cheaper motels where security is lower, but higher-end hotels are not immune.
It’s impossible to rescue trafficking victims if their location is unknown.
After renting a room, traffickers force women and girls to pose in photos and post them in online advertisements. 75% of underage sex trafficking victims report that they were advertised or sold online. The key here is that the details of their hotel room can give away their location. Carpeting, furniture, window views–even the smallest feature can tip off law enforcement. However, there are too many photos and not enough time for investigators to comb through them before the victims are moved again.
Enter the TraffickCam app.
In 2016, the Exchange Initiative, whose mission is to empower people and organizations to fight sex trafficking, created a free app called TraffickCam. This app allows individuals to upload photos of their hotel room to a database. Each photo is transformed into data points with image analysis technology, and law enforcement can then compare advertisements of suspected trafficking victims against TraffickCam’s database of photos. Since its launch, more than 255,000 hotels have been added to the database.
It comes down to this: you can help locate trafficking victims. Yes, you! All you have to do is download the TraffickCam app and take photos of your hotel room when you travel. It’s that easy. You don’t need to wear a badge or carry a gun to rescue girls from the clutches of slavery. We need all civilian hands on deck, because law enforcement has a far better chance of finding victims if people continue to add to the database.
During your hotel stay, keep your eyes open.
I know, I know. You’re on vacation. You want to take a break from work or school and not think about depressing things and not worry about other people’s problems.
That’s what the traffickers are counting on.
If you work at a hotel or motel, you have a valuable perspective, because you have eyes in places others cannot go. But whether you came to work or to relax, here are a few red flags to look for:
- Individuals show signs of malnourishment, poor hygiene, fatigue, sleep deprivation, untreated illness, injuries, and/or unusual behavior
- Individuals dress inappropriately for their age
- Requests housekeeping services (additional towels, new linens) but denies staff entry into room
- Presence of multiple computers, cell phones, or credit card swipers in room
- Car is parked backward so the license plate isn’t visible
- Individuals asking staff or patrons for food or money
- Extended stay with few or no personal possessions
Many times, the traffickers won’t even come into the hotel. They’ll send the girls in by themselves, who usually aren’t very sure of themselves. They will pay cash and only have a small bag despite booking several nights. You can find a more comprehensive list of red flags here. Of course, seeing these things doesn’t mean you are without a doubt looking at human trafficking, but this atrocity happens right under our noses. If a situation feels off, don’t ignore it. You have nothing to lose by calling the Human Trafficking Hotline.
A bigger demand equals a bigger supply.
Big events such as the Superbowl, Artprize, rallies, or auto shows attract big crowds. The more people you have in one place, the more people will be looking for pleasure–in all its legal and illegal forms. Traffickers are very much aware of this, and they set up camp nearby–which could happen to be your hotel. Festivals, theme parks, even cruise ships…you can bet there will be a larger number of traffickers in these places, and they’ll make a fortune off of selling women and girls. Horrendous, isn’t it?
Thanks to Exchange Initiative, we ordinary people can do something about that. Even if you’re one of the rare people who doesn’t have a smartphone, you can upload photos the TraffickCam website. It takes less than five minutes of your time. No excuses!
We Michiganders get antsy for some sun around this time, and on top of that it’s been a doozy of a winter. If there’s a warm beach getaway on your calendar for spring break, don’t forget to download the Traffick Cam app before you go, and use it to snap a few photos of your hotel room before you get cozy. If you ask me, it’s a great excuse to travel!