Raising Awareness of Human Trafficking in Event Spaces
Thursday, February 14, 2019
By Andrea Michaels
Editor’s Note: ILEA is dedicated to staying abreast of critical issues in the live events industry as they arise. As such, we are sharing this article from longtime ILEA member and events pioneer Andrea Michaels to raise awareness of this unfortunate reality. As a live events professional, it’s important to be informed of serious issues related to our field so that we can participate in the effort to put a stop to them.
Would you be surprised to know that human trafficking is a $150 billion business every year? Would you be shocked to learn that the average pimp in Atlanta makes $1.4 million a year?1 It’s shocking, and yet sometimes shock is what it takes to raise awareness. Trafficking is a hard crime to see if you’re not looking for it. And that’s why I am sharing this. We need to open our eyes wide. I can’t stop trafficking alone, but I believe the awareness I can raise among live events professionals might save a life.
The worst perpetrators of trafficking move within the hospitality industry. There’s a misconception that trafficking means crossing borders. Human smuggling is a crime against borders. Human trafficking is a crime against a person. Human trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining (or attempting to do so) of a person by means of force; fraud or coercion for the purpose of commercial sex acts; involuntary servitude; debt bondage or slavery. It does not discriminate across social/economic barriers. That is another erroneous perception. They are not underworld problems only. They can happen to the wealthiest and most educated echelons. They happen in front of us every day.
I was astonished to learn that the biggest offender/identifier is magazine and candy sales or flower vendors on the street2 — kids selling something during school hours and claiming they are raising funds for their team. Think also of staff that work seven days a week, too many hours a day, perhaps undocumented. Where do they come from? Where are they housed? How are they paid? It’s not as uncommon as you may think for people to be lured into jobs and then trapped into forced labor.
Sex trafficking often occurs at huge conferences or sporting events. Maybe you noticed at your hotel’s front desk a man with four very young girls, maybe made up to look older — dressed provocatively. Did you really imagine that a dad was taking his daughter and her friends out for the night? I also want to be clear that children are not prostitutes; they are prostituted. And that is boys as well as girls. “Prostitute” constitutes choice; “prostitution” means they choice is taken away. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked in the U.S. every year.
It’s hard to know if something is amiss, but awareness is key. Here are a few things to look out for:
- A person who is unusually fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense or nervous/paranoid; a person who avoids eye contact
- A person who shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
- A person who is not allowed to speak for themselves (a third party insistent on being present or translating)
- A person who has a lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or what city they are in
- Youth who is a frequent runaway, has unusual amounts of cash, has hotel room keys or multiple phones
- A person who is not free to leave or come and go as they wish
What do you do if you suspect these things could be crimes? There is a National Center for Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 as well as National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST, as well as many others in your specific community. I learned so much about all of this at L.A.’s Coalition Abolishing Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), and CSEC training (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children). If you want more information, Polaris, Shared Hope International and U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking are good places to start.
For more information on how to spot the signs of human trafficking, read this article from Hotel News Now.
Andrea Michaels founded Extraordinary Events in 1988. The company enhances storytelling by melding digital and in-the-moment live experiences to create a new category of immersive events. Through amplifying the media channels of today, the audiences of tomorrow become engaged and connected.
- Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)
- Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST)