Truckers, hotel workers need human trafficking training, bills say

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Capital News Service

LANSING — In an attempt to curb sex traffickers, proposed legislation would require truckers and hotel owners, operators and employees to take training courses to identify human trafficking.

“Knowing the signs of when it’s happening or when it could happen may help stop trafficking — just knowing how to approach it and how to talk to people about it, because I think people know about it, but they don’t know the extent,” said Melina Brann, the executive director of the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing.

“Just having that knowledge will help with identifying and hopefully reducing it,” Brann said.

Last year there were 172 reported cases of human trafficking in Michigan, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. 

Lt. Sarah Krebs of the State Police said her personal belief is that many such cases are missed, and that missing juvenile cases are often reported without being investigated for human trafficking.

According to the hotline, hotels are commonly used for sex trafficking, allowing buyers ease of access and the ability to pay in cash.   

In January, for example, the Genesee Human Oppression Strike Team set up sting operations in which they arranged meet-ups at local motels.

In December, police arrested 46 suspects in Southeast Michigan on charges connected with human trafficking. They allegedly operated and moved among hotels in the Warren area.

And Amber Speed of Lansing was convicted in 2018 of running a commercial sex ring that included herself and three other women. The victims gave their earnings to Speed, who supplied them with addictive drugs, according to the Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted her.

The hotline also identified truck stops as frequent locations for human trafficking where victims are forced to engage in commercial sex while moving from place to place.

“Traffickers often take advantage of the privacy and anonymity that a hotel environment offers, so if we can make sure that hotel staff and management know what to look for, and know how to report suspicious behavior, we can save victims,” said Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren, the lead sponsor of one the bills.

The lead sponsor of another bill is Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton.

The bills would require training on the recognition, prevention and reporting of human trafficking for hospitality employees and individuals receiving or renewing a commercial driver’s license. 

They would also have the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission provide information and training to owners, operators and employees in the hospitality industry.

Michigan Trucking Association President Mickey Blashfield said truckers are in the right place to prevent human trafficking. 

Organizations like Truckers against Trafficking already work to provide training materials to commercial driver’s license instructors.

In the hotel industry, the Polaris Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, cited warning signs of human trafficking as extended stays with few possessions, excessive foot traffic in and out of rooms, multiple rooms booked under one name and day-by-day extensions of an initial reservation. 

The bills are pending review by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

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