NORTH HAVEN — Students from the Quinnipiac University School of Law told hospitality industry employees this week that no one employee will see all the signs of possible human sex trafficking, making communication critical among staff members.
A group of four students also said traffickers are looking for establishments that cater to a large number of customers daily, allowing them to move clients and victims around anonymously.
“Because of that, traffickers view you as anonymous and they view the use of your business as low-risk,” said John Sonderegger, one of the students.
The students also urged hospitality workers to watch for signs of labor trafficking, which they said can have some similarities.
A state law passed last year requires hospitality industry employees to undergo training on how to recognize human trafficking and to report any suspicious activity. That contact can be made with police, the state Department of Children and Families, or certain organizations focused on stopping human trafficking.
Quinnipiac has partnered with Grace Farms Foundation, DCF, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, and the state’s Commission on Women, Children, and Seniors to develop a program largely modeled after training that Marriott International created for its employees.
Monday’s event was the third of its kind and the first open to the public.
Krishna Patel, general counsel and director of justice initiatives for Grace Farms, said the hospitality industry has been “incredibly positive” in its response to the training. The law passed last year, which also requires hotels to keep records on file to aid investigations, is the first of its kind, Patel said.
She said the biggest issues have been easing concerns about lawsuits for false allegations and the possibility of heavy police presence. She said hotels likely can’t be held liable for reporting tips, just as citizens do for suspicious activity, and police will handle calls subtly to avoid violent reactions from possible sex traffickers.
“No hotel wants lights and sirens for the rest of their customers, for their reputation, but law enforcement knows how volatile that situation is,” she said.
Conversely, hotels are suddenly becoming the subjects of civil action if they fail to report suspicious activity. A lawsuit was filed last month against a Philadelphia hotel, and Patel said she’s aware of five such cases around the country, including some that appear to be strategic.
The training sessions come as the legislature continues to look for ways to address human trafficking in general, with an emphasis on sex trafficking.
The legislature’s Judiciary Committee approved several bills last week, including one that would raise sex trafficking to a Class A felony.
Patel called human trafficking the “fastest growing criminal enterprise” worldwide. The International Labor Organization estimates that the industry makes as much as $150 billion a year.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline states there were 7,572 reported cases of human trafficking in the U.S. last year, up from 3,279 in 2012. In Connecticut, there were 54 reported cases last year, up from 27 in 2012.
Those figures don’t include referrals to DCF for cases involving minors, which rose from 44 to 193 during the same time span.