Jan. 11 is Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
You may assume that human trafficking has nothing to do with you, and that there’s nothing you can do about it. If so, you would be wrong.
The average age of a child recruited into sex trafficking is just 12. When we tell that to people who know little about human trafficking, particularly child sex trafficking, we see them literally take a step back.
But once you know, especially if you’re a parent, the issue just sticks with you. You can’t stop thinking about kids being picked up over the Internet and lured into a horrible nightmare with promises of fame and a great life.
Jane Quinn and I, partners at Nix Conference & Meeting Management, first heard about child sex trafficking from a client, and we were stunned. This is happening in hotels across the country? Right here in St. Louis?
The answer was a resounding “yes.” We had to learn more.
Then we realized, as meeting planners we could do something about it. Further, we learned that everyone can help fight sex trafficking, by being aware of the signs and learning what to do.
Our first action was to initiate and sign the ECPAT Meeting Planners Code of Conduct, committing to discuss the issue with every hotel where we do business. (ECPAT stands for End Child Prostitution And Trafficking.) We encourage hotel managers to set policies, and train their staff to recognize and report possible signs of sex trafficking.
Next, we launched Exchange Initiative, a new social action organization whose mission is to combat sex trafficking on a global scale.
And now we are hosting “IGNITE: Sparking Action Against Sex Trafficking.” It is our first national conference, held in St. Louis from March 2-4, 2014. The conference will provide education and resources to all stakeholders while bringing global awareness to the issue of sex trafficking.
The IGNITE Conference will offer programming for criminal justice professionals, first responders, corporations, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and education administrators and counselors.
We’re inviting corporations and organizations to sponsor the conference and send attendees. Everyone who travels can help fight sex trafficking by learning the signs to look for and how to report suspicious activity.
These are the potential red flags that can help identify trafficking situations. This list is not exhaustive and all signs may not be present in every case:
- Appears helpless, shamed, afraid, nervous or disoriented
- Avoids eye contact
- Emotionally flat or confused
- Won’t speak
- Scripted answers, inconsistent story or blatant lies
- No personal items, money or ID
- Signs of abuse, such as bruising in various stages of healing
- Clothing with a “Daddy” reference, or inappropriate for the weather
- Brandings or tattoos, especially ones that reflect ownership or money
In addition to the conference, Exchange Initiative is developing resources including a national calendar of training classes and certified trainers list; and a database of hotel room photos. Requested by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the database will help investigators quickly identify a sex trafficked child’s location by comparing room photos displayed online to those in the database.
You can learn more about the issue of sex trafficking, the “ IGNITE” conference and ways to help combat sex trafficking at www.exchangeinitiative.com/ignite/.
Molly Hackett is a principal at Nix Conference & Meeting Management and Exchange Initiative. She and Nix co-owner Jane Quinn were the first to sign the ECPAT Meeting Planners Code of Conduct and are active in developing events and resources to fight sex trafficking.