No Vacancy: What Governments Can Do to Combat Child Sex Trafficking

Child sex trafficking is a problem in every region of the United States. Governments—from as big as the U.S. Government to your own city council—have a duty to protect the children in their communities.

One area where governments can combat child sex trafficking is in the tourism industry.

Last week, ECPAT-USA released a report, No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers, which shows the extent and impact of our training efforts. Over the next few weeks, we will share a series of blogs that will teach you about the issue, highlight stakeholders who can help fight child sex trafficking, and give you ideas from the report for how to get involved. The blog you are reading will give tips for elected officials to get involved..

With the use of online classified ads, child sex trafficking is both on the streets and behind the closed doors of local hotel rooms. Pimps rent rooms in hotels, then go online to create advertisements in adult sexual services pages, and finally sell victims in hotels or have victims meet purchasers at nearby hotels.

Hotel rooms are a preferred venue for the sale of children because traffickers believe they are anonymous at hotels, giving them a sense that there is little risk in their behavior. They also believe that hotels are risk-free because they believe training on indicators of child sex trafficking is not widespread.

There are a number of common sense laws that governments can pass to combat child sex trafficking in the tourism industry. From requiring training in all hotels to passing transparency legislation, legislators can play a unique role in ending this scourge.

While many hotels are already training their associates to combat child sex trafficking– No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers shows that half of all hotels in the United States have had training– governments must ensure there are no training gaps criminals can exploit.


What Governments Can Do

One thing governments must do is pass laws that require hotels to train their associates on child sexual exploitation, with consultation and resources from groups already working on the issue.

Many hotels are proactively training their associates. However, those who exploit children seek out venues where they feel anonymous and will go unnoticed or unreported to the authorities, so it is important that there are no gaps in training. Think about it this way, if one hotel trains and a trafficker leaves a property, the trafficker may go right to the hotel next door to exploit their victims.

Governments must pass laws requiring all hotels to train their associates to recognize and appropriately respond to suspected instances of child sexual exploitation. That being said, laws must consider the work already being done by nonprofits, hotel trade associations, and the hotel industry to address this issue. They must include existing, well crafted resources in the training requirements rather than duplicating existing efforts. Keep in mind, we’ve been working with hotels since 2004 so good resources already exist! We just need hotels to access the resources.

One good example of a law like this is the law Connecticut passed in 2016. Public Act No. 16-17 passed by the Connecticut General Assembly mandates training for all hotel and lodging staff and also requires hotels to keep records of their guests. This Connecticut law was created through collaboration between state agencies, the public sector, and other stakeholders. The implementation of the law also involved a public-private partnership that brought together a number of experts in the area including Marriott International, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, and others.

Another thing governments must do is pass transparency legislation that explicitly includes child sexual exploitation language.  Governments outside the United States, most notably in the UK with the Modern Slavery Act, have passed transparency legislation that requires companies to report on their efforts to combat human trafficking, including child labor. The United States introduced similar legislation called the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act. This legislation, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2015, would require certain businesses to report annually on steps they had taken to address modern slavery and trafficking.

ECPAT-USA works to ensure legislation actually mentions reporting on child sex trafficking, which is often overlooked. Additionally, transparency legislation cannot stop at targeting companies that provide goods (products) but must also require certain companies that provide services, such as hotels, to report.

Transparency laws not only encourage brands to take steps to fight trafficking, they also provide opportunities for sharing information about best practices and collaboration, and give all stakeholders information about where to focus future efforts. A study of the effects of the UK Modern Slavery Act after one year found that the law encouraged internal dialogue about modern slavery issues at companies, including at the director level, and led to a greater focus on policy development, risk assessment, and monitoring of human trafficking.

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While collaboration between multiple sectors is key to eradicating child sex trafficking, governments have a unique ability to mandate steps that will address the problem. If governments act, with input from private sector and nonprofit organizations with expertise in this area, we can ensure no child is bought or sold.

To read the full list of recommendations governments must take to combat child sex trafficking, read the full report we released last week. And don’t forget to stay tuned for the rest of our blog series! Next week, we’ll be focusing on how the meetings industry can get involved.