By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and concerned individuals are making plans to help employees at area hotels and motels learn to identify whether human trafficking may be occurring there. Human trafficking organizations estimate that 75-80 percent of sex trafficking occurs in hotels/motels and, more often than not, unbeknownst to managers and staff.
U.S. law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor or services against his or her will. All commercial sex involving a minor is legally considered human trafficking.
Recently, anti-trafficking groups and volunteers from the region — including Clinton, Davenport and Dubuque, Iowa — participated in training through the Omaha-based Coalition on Human Trafficking to help local hotels and motels become “no-trafficking zones.”
Sister Jan Cebula, OSF, president of the Clinton Franciscans, said, “Many of us probably think of foreign countries when we hear the words ‘human trafficking.’ But it is happening here in the U.S., here in Iowa and here in our local area.” She shared this information Jan. 15 during a press conference at Clinton City Hall.
Lori Freudenberg, outreach director for the Franciscan Peace Center in Clinton and a member of the center’s Anti-Trafficking Committee, worked to bring the training opportunity to the area. She serves as the local point of contact for volunteers.
“Approximately 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted yearly in the United States,” she said. “People are often shocked to learn that the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years old. It is crucial to get informed about the risks and signs to prevent this from happening to our children.”
With the training they received in September, volunteers are able to offer hotel and motel staff a 30-45-minute training using information from the Coalition on Human Trafficking. The training is intended to help employees identify signs of human trafficking. The coalition’s website states: “Housekeepers, front desk workers, security and all staff can have their eyes and ears open to potential signs if they know what to look for.” Once the staff is trained, the hotel/motel receives a certificate and a press release is sent to local media. Volunteers in Dubuque recently trained staff at Grand Harbor Resort.
Earlier this month, Franciscan Peace Center teamed with city governments in Clinton and Camanche to bring attention to human trafficking and this initiative. Mayors in both cities signed a proclamation calling upon businesses, community organizations, schools, faith-based groups, families and all citizens to recognize “the vital role each of us can play in ending all forms of slavery and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.”
Davenport-area volunteers will begin training local hotel/motel staff sometime this year, said Ann Mohr, who chairs Attacking Trafficking, a Quad-City faith-based group. Volunteers include Sisters of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary. “We’re a smaller group than the Clinton group, so we’re a bit behind schedule, but we intend to follow the same protocol set by the Coalition on Human Trafficking,” she said. “We know that (most) sex trafficking occurs in hotels, so the need for training is huge.”
About Human Trafficking
Worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, second only to illicit drugs and organized crime, and robs an estimated 25 million people of their freedom. Here are some resources:
National Hotline: (888) 373-7888 or text INFO to BEFREE (233833)
Iowa Hotline: (800) 770-1650 or text IowaHelp to 20121
Coalition on Human Trafficking website: https://notrafficking.org