Webinars train hotel staff on human trafficking signs

Webinars train hotel staff on human trafficking signs

It’s known as a hidden crime, but there’s a new effort to bring it out of the shadows. A web course is helping spread awareness about human trafficking in Wisconsin and aims to prevent more people from becoming victims.

Human trafficking is a growing crime in Wisconsin. According to the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, about 300,000 children will become the victims of sex trafficking each year. But those working to fight human trafficking in the state said they don’t have a full understanding of how widespread it really is.

“We know that it’s happening across Wisconsin. Rural areas are just as much at risk as our larger urban areas, as well as our tribal areas,” Dr. Joy Ippolito, anti-human trafficking coordinator for the Department of Children and Families, said.

The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and the Department of Justice partnered with the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association as well as UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies program to create training webinars.

“[The Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association] really wanted to come out in front of this and say we want to be a partner with the state and make sure we can raise awareness with human trafficking,” Ippolito said.

Many times, traffickers rely on places like hotels to keep their operations running, so this training is geared toward hotel and lodging staff because they’re most likely to see something that may not seem right and can tell a manager or call police.

Ippolito said staff will learn to look for people using cash or pre-paid credit cards to reserve rooms, refusing cleaning services for multiple days and those who ask other guests for money.

“At the state agency level, we’re certainly working on this from child welfare, law enforcement and many other different systems and service providers. But, again, we really need those individuals who are in a place to help spot in different industries throughout the tourism industry, but definitely within hotels, to help notify us when something just doesn’t seem right,” Ippolito said.

The Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association sent a link to the webinars to nearly 3,000 hotels in the state. It’s free and available in several languages. The hope is that 100 percent of hotel employees complete the training.

Aside from the training, a new law was passed this legislative session that allows the state’s Attorney General to subpoena hotels for their internet records. Later on this year, the state is launching a prevention and awareness campaign.