The first time Anneke Lucas heard about legislation designed to rescue human trafficking victims in hotels, she couldn’t help but think about how something like that could have helped her as a child.
“If I had seen the definition that said I was not a prostitute, that would have made a difference for me,” Lucas told NBC News. “I was the kind of child that wanted to get help but there was none.”
Lucas, who says she survived five-and-a-half years of being tortured and raped at the hands of human traffickers as a child, believes if she had seen a sign that explained she was a victim — not a prostitute — in the many hotels she was taken to, it could have changed her life.
It was that realisation that propelled her to advocate for more states to pass similar laws.
Lucas, 53, began an online petition, asking that legislators work toward a similar bill in New York — a Mecca of tourism and the hotel industry — following Connecticut’s lead.
After receiving more than 54,000 signatures, she teamed up with New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who began drafting legislation that would make the signs mandatory in hotels, and would train hotel staff how to spot victims.
IDEAS FOR LEGISLATION
Paulin has been a longtime advocate for human trafficking awareness and has already helped to pass legislation that trained hospital staff in New York to recognise and report potential victims.
She told NBC News her passion for the issue came from years of advocating for victims of domestic violence. Paulin recalled how she had been in salons when hairdressers noticed bruises on the hairlines of their clients.
“We knew if a hairdresser saw a bruise they could talk about it and have cards available in ladies room and it was very helpful and continues to be helpful,” Paulin said.
When the hairdressers began training to recognise the signs of domestic violence, Paulin realised that kind of training could be applied to a multitude of other professions.
So after Lucas brought the idea to her office to increase awareness in hotels, Paulin knew she had to turn the idea into a reality.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN HOTELS
Paulin’s legislation, which is still in the works, would include mandatory training of staff members as well as informative signs in hotels, motels and inns in New York state.
“One thing we always worry about is that pimps are very clever, and they might find a way of avoiding hotels [with the signs],” Paulin said. “But if there’s uniformity they can’t avoid all the hotels.”
Polaris, an anti-trafficking advocacy group, recorded more than 1,400 cases of trafficking in hotels between December 2007 and February 2015. During that time, more than 1,800 victims were identified in hotels.
The group says its statistics are self-analyzed and do not represent the full scope of the issue.
Out of 26,727 calls made to the Human Trafficking Hotline in 2016, more than 7,500 calls reported human trafficking.
According to the hotline and Polaris’ data, New York experienced the fifth-most trafficking out of any state behind California, Texas, Florida and Ohio.
More than 4,500 of the calls made came from victims or survivors themselves, according to the organisations.
While the majority of trafficking is of a sexual nature, according to Polaris, a small portion of those who are trafficked in hotels are labor trafficking victims, meaning they are forced into work in order to repay a debt.
Paulin said her legislation, if passed, would only be aimed at victims of sex trafficking, and in addition to posting signs, would teach the staff what to look for when they suspect a victim is on the premises.
According to Paulin, hotel staff would be trained to notice warning signs including: Intimidation of another person from someone who is obviously overbearing; a noticeable difference in age between two guests who might not look related; tattoos that declare a person is property; young people who come to a hotel repeatedly with different adults.
COMMITMENT FROM HOTELS
In order for the proposed legislation to work, Paulin said hotels, motels and inns in New York would need to get on board.
Original article appearing in NBC News: Click here to view