Friday, April 12, 2024

New Hotel Human Trafficking Course Helps ‘Lift up the Standards’

Marriott has its own human trafficking training course for their employees. (Photo by Kaitlyn McMahon/Capital News Service)

RICHMOND — Virginia hotel employees are being trained how to recognize and report the signs of human trafficking in an effort to reduce the number of victims.

The 30-minute, online training program officially launched this year. Current employees had to complete the course by the end of June. The General Assembly passed and funded a bill last year allowing the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to create the online course.

Del. Shelly A. Simonds, D-Newport News, sponsored the measure.

The course is free to employees and must be completed after six months of employment and every two years. There are over 115,000 hotel employees that would be required to take the course, according to figures provided by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

The VDCJS was “fully dedicated to this issue,” Simonds said.

State leaders budgeted nearly $466,000 in the biennial budget for the state agency to provide the online course. The training is necessary because sex and labor trafficking occur frequently in hotels, according to Simonds.

“Law enforcement can only do so much, they need citizens to be involved and knowing the signs that human trafficking might be going on,” Simonds said.

The outside of a Marriott hotel in Henrico County.The international hotel chain offers its own online training course to help employees recognize signs of human trafficking. (Photo by Kaitlyn McMahon/Capital News Service)

Virginia hotels supported the training. Hotel brands like Hilton and Marriott even had their own online course before it was mandated, according to Simonds.

Brands without their own training must complete the state-required course.

“Now this law requires that everyone does it, including smaller operators, smaller motel chains,” Simonds said.“ I think it’s really going to lift up the standards for everyone.”

The Virginia Department of Health enforces hotel employees to have their human trafficking training certificate on file, according to Simonds. This certification is transferable to other Virginia hotel chains.

“There’s a lot of support across Virginia for cracking down on human trafficking,” Simonds said. “And whether it be from the hotel industry, tourism industry, the legislature, the Virginia State Police — we’re all working together to find solutions.”

Human trafficking affects at least 150 to 300 victims per year in Virginia, according to the Human Trafficking Courts’ website.

Specific data is unknown due to underreporting from survivors. In 2019, 370 victims were identified in Virginia by the National Human Trafficking Hotline. This number does not represent the full scope of victims due to potential lack of knowledge surrounding trafficking or resources such as the National Hotline, according to the organization’s website.

Tommy Herbert is the director of government affairs for Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, a trade organization that works to inform its members of law requirements and available training. Its website provides legislative information, bill tracking and multiple training programs.

The organization does not perform the training, but offers training resources to companies and their employees, according to Herbert.

“VRLTA looks forward to a future of advocating on behalf of Virginia’s restaurant, travel, and hotel lodging industries as well as working with Virginia government stakeholders to enhance Virginia tourism,” Herbert stated.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, in an executive order on his first day in office, pledged his administration’s commitment to help combat human trafficking and provide support to survivors.

State Attorney General Jason Miyares led a two-day Virginia human trafficking Call to Action summit in Richmond at the end of August. The summit covered trends and solutions to the state’s human trafficking problem, according to a statement from his office.

Miyares works with local, state, and federal entities to prosecute traffickers and support victims, according to his spokeswoman Chloe Smith.

Miyares supported state legislation that also required first-year public university students to complete an online human trafficking training course during their school’s orientation, according to Smith.

The attorney general also helped prosecute four individuals last month connected to a large-scale human trafficking ring which operated out of a Williamsburg laundry facility. Over 100 survivors were reported in connection to the ring, according to Smith.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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