One Travel Professional’s Experience Is An Important Reminder Of Vulnerability Of Homeless Youth

By Michelle Guelbart and Emily Becker

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Dawn Rasmussen, an Oregon-based resume writer and career management coach, cited the training she received from Meeting Professionals International (MPI), an ECPAT-USA partner as the vehicle that gave her the confidence to intervene in a recent situation that could have turned into a trafficking scenario.

Dawn had been kayaking at an Oregon state park, in a rural area, and was returning to her car when she noticed a young woman walking around the nearly empty parking lot. She had a number of bags with her, and clearly, none of the cars in the lot belonged to her. The girl wandered close to the MPI member, who asked her if she needed anything. When the young woman responded she was waiting for someone, Dawn said that’s when alarm bells started going off.

Instead of continuing about her day, Dawn, enlisted the help of two other women who had arrived at the park to talk with the girl while she called the police. In a Facebook post, Dawn referred to the group as a “small covey of guardian angels.” On a phone call with ECPAT-USA she noted that the series of events—receiving training, seeing the girl, enlisting the support of equally concerned women—didn’t feel like a coincidence. Dawn told ECPAT-USA that she felt like “an instrument,” like she was put in the situation.

The women noticed inconsistencies in her story, an indicator cited in ECPAT-USA training. They learned that she had just run away from home, and while she said she was 22, she seemed much younger. Initially she said that she was waiting for her brother. Then she said she was waiting for a friend of her brother’s.

At this point, over an hour had passed and no one had come to pick up the young woman. The three women, who have stayed in touch since the incident, decided together that they would wait with the girl until the police arrived and hoped that the officers would be able to get the young woman the resources she needed.

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Runaway and homeless youth are a population that is especially vulnerable to traffickers in the U.S. Isolated and lacking basic needs such as food and shelter, homeless youth are prone to coercion tactics used by traffickers. A study in 2013 conducted by Covenant House, an organization that serves homeless youth, homeless teens in NYC who were survivors of sex trafficking said a lack of a safe place to sleep had been their number one concern when they had been drawn into commercial sexual exploitation.

Our corporate training programs help to teach members of the hotel and travel industry the signs of and how to best respond to instances of child sex trafficking. With these tools, individuals are better equipped with how to respond when, like Dawn, they see something that causes their “alarm bells” to go off and help protect other kids from exploitation.

To learn more about how your company can train associates to help end child sex trafficking click here, and to learn more about our youth program that helps empower students to become leaders and advocates in their community, click here.

To schedule a time to speak with ECPAT-USA or Dawn, contact Michelle Guelbart at michelle@ecpatusa.org.

ECPAT-USA’s Director of Private Sector Engagement, Michelle Guelbart, invited Dawn to tell her story at an ECPAT-USA session during Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress in Indianapolis on Monday, June 4 from 1:15 PM - 2:15 PM.

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