Opinion: San Diego Hotels Must Learn How to Spot and Report Human Trafficking

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An officer talks with a sex trafficking victim. Courtesy FBI

By Vipul Dayal

Sadly there are more than 8,000 human trafficking victims in San Diego County every year, with major tourist events like the Del Mar Races and Comic-Con potentially serving as catalysts for sex trafficking.

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As a father of three children, two of whom are daughters, and a resident of San Diego, the 13th highest intensity area for child prostitution, sex trafficking really hits close to home for me and probably for you, too. San Diego County is only a piece of the nationwide problem, but can lead by setting an example for the rest of the country. America’s Finest City can motivate hoteliers all over the United States to take an active stance against human sex trafficking.

State Sen. Toni Atkins recently introduced two bills to fight this scourge. Senate Bill 230 would help prosecute human traffickers for current and past offenses, and Senate Bill 270, would require hotels to train employees on human trafficking prevention and how to report any signs of trafficking to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Sex trafficking is a rapidly growing issue, and San Diego holds the power to stop it

Vipul Dayal

Last year, Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan led the way to create San Diego County’s Regional Human Trafficking and Commercial Exploitation of Children Advisory Council. The council developed a training program for all hotels and motels in San Diego known as the SAFE Action Project.

A hotel can use the SAFE Project website to access training videos specifically geared for each department. With this training, staff will know how to properly detect signs of human trafficking.

These signs include guests paying in cash, requesting a room away from high-traffic areas, checking in for multiple days with little to no luggage, and excessive condom wrappers in the trash.

Once a minimum of 75 percent of hotel employees complete the SAFE training, the hotel receives a certificate of completion. So far 58 hotels have completed this voluntary training.

The rapid adoption of the SAFE initiative demonstrates that San Diego hoteliers are ready to tackle human trafficking head on. However, Atkins’ Senate Bill 270 would make human trafficking detection training mandatory for all hotels and motels in the entire state of California.

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Lack of awareness about human trafficking signs among hotel and motel staff is a gap that must be resolved. Staff must know that they too play a critical role in stopping human trafficking. Members of the hospitality industry, including proprietors and staff alike, need to be educated with facts and statistics and given the proper tools to take part in prevention efforts.

Many of the larger hotel brands, such as the Wyndham Hotel Group, already have these programs in place. However, the smaller “mom and pop” hotels may feel at a loss since they don’t have the funds for additional training. Fortunately, the advisory council provides the training videos and other free resources. The California Hotel Lodging Association also offers free training on its website.

Although some members of our community feel they won’t make an impact, I encourage everyone to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The 8,000-plus victims of sex trafficking need our help. We can unite our local hospitality industry, one hotel and motel at a time. Hotel and motel owners can be the leaders we need by signing up their properties for training.

Vipul Dayal serves on the board of directors for the California Hotel & Lodging Association and is a member of the San Diego County Regional Human Trafficking and Commercial Exploitation of Children Advisory Council.

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