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Making Allies, Not Adversaries: A Grassroots Effort to Battle Human Trafficking

Battle Human Trafficking

Seven years ago, teams of volunteers from a group called Love 146 began dropping in to visit the managers of hotels and motels in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to raise awareness of the problem of human trafficking and offer resources for fighting it.

Since then, some 350 volunteers have reached 500 hotels and motels around the U.S., says Matthew Miller, director of development and mobilization for the New Haven, Conn.-based international human rights organization focused on preventing child trafficking and exploitation. They have done outreach in Denver, Houston, New York City, Orlando and parts of Connecticut.

“Over the last 10 years there has been increased awareness around human trafficking as the human rights issue of our time,” he says. “We fundamentally believe no one organization, law or person is going to end trafficking. It’s a movement of people across sectors, around the world, that will end trafficking.”

Love146 - The Abolition of Child Trafficking & Exploitation

Love 146 began its effort in 2011 in Miller’s Saratoga Springs, N.Y., community, where the outreach has extended to about 40 hotels and motels. The volunteers have worked with franchisees of Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn and Courtyard by Marriott, he says.

“They go out and pound the pavement,” Miller says.

Once at a hotel or motel, the volunteers aim to have a discrete conversation about trafficking with a manager or front desk person.

“We do an introduction to who we are and share our resources,” Miller says.

The volunteers then offer to return to do further training and provide educational posters that provide the hotline number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center for their break rooms or back rooms.

Related Article: Taking a Stand Against Human Trafficking

 “In our experience people in the hospitality industry have generally been really passionate and really helpful,” Miller says. “We don’t view it as a relationship that has to be coerced. By far most of the people we talk to are anxious to be able to be of help. We’re really encouraged by that.”

The volunteers are careful to avoid any behavior that would embarrass the hospitality providers.

“We view them as allies, not adversaries,” Miller says.

As a result, they make an effort not to create confrontational situations.

“What you don’t want to do is march into a lobby full of guests and say, ‘We’re here to help you with your human trafficking problem,’” Miller says.

Love 146 has also been expanding its outreach beyond the grassroots level. For instance, it provided training at the Religious Conference Management Association's Emerge Conference in Omaha, Neb., from Jan. 30-Feb. 1, holding workshops on topics such as “5 Things You Can Do to Stop Human Trafficking.”

It has also reached out to parent companies in the hospitality industry.

“As a national organization, we’ve been much more successful on the grassroots side,” Miller says. “Increasingly we are having conversations on the corporate side.”

Through its “Community Empowerment Initiative,” Love 146 has created free resources to educate event planners on trafficking, which are available by writing to info@love146.org. The group hopes this will be a route to further education.

“You have to have some contact with us,” Miller says. “You can’t just download it.”

Love 146 has been very active in Houston, which, as a big city, has grappled with a high rate of human trafficking. 

Related Article: Tackling The Human Trafficking Issue In The Events and Hospitality Industry

A study at the University of Texas, funded by a US$500,000 grant from the Texas Office of the Governor Criminal Justice Division, found that the state has more than 300,000 human trafficking victims. Most are victims of labor trafficking, but nearly 79,000 are children and teens forced into prostitution and other types of sex trafficking, the study found.

Love 149 has gotten a lot of support from the community in Houston, including members of the meeting and event industry.

Jason Arcemont, who runs the branding firm BrightBox in Houston as well as the trade show exhibit firm ShowBox, has collaborated with Love 146. He learned about the extent of human trafficking in the city from a pamphlet Love 146 left at his church.

In October 2014, the father of four ran 850 miles across Texas—completing 30 marathons in 30 days to raise awareness of human trafficking and money to fight it. He also spoke to dozens of schools and churches. The effort raised close to $200,000 in funds and services, he says.

“The majority of us are mortified when we hear what’s going on,” Arcemont says.

Arcemont, who lives in a suburb of Houston with his family, heard from many people in the community who reached out to him.

“I literally had moms message me on Facebook and thank me for what we were doing,” he says. “If your children are not aware of it, it can happen to them.”

However, he points out, there is plenty of work to be done.

“There is a large appetite for this,” Arcemont says. “It wouldn’t be as big of a market if there weren’t a ton of people paying for it.”

At the end of last year, he helped Love 146 open a resale shop in Houston called Reimagine that raises funds for the group’s efforts. 

Arcemont is hoping the meeting and event industry will take a leadership role on the issue.

“They are touching so many people in so many situations where there is a ripple effect,” he says.

The presence of big events such as the Super Bowl add to the city’s vulnerability to trafficking, Acremont notes.

“It is well documented there is more prostitution and more trafficking around major events,” he says.

Related Article: Tackling The Human Trafficking Issue In The Events and Hospitality Industry

Mike Spears, a board member of Love 146 and one of the managing principals at Lee & Associates, a commercial real estate firm that sells land to hotel developers and other clients, says that Houston’s lack of zoning also contributes to the city’s presence as a hub for human trafficking.

Because properties in the city are organized in a hodgepodge fashion, he says, “it provides an easier way for bad operators to operate. They are not pushed into one specific area. We don’t have a red light district.”

Spears experienced what this meant firsthand when a group spoke to his church about human trafficking.

“They did a slide show of buildings that were suspected and known locations,” he recalls.

When it came to the second to last slide, he says, “I froze. I said, ‘I was there this afternoon.’ I had pulled into the parking lot with my client. I was showing him a development project across the street. Literally, it was a known location and has since been busted as a child trafficking spot. I realized this is happening right under our noses.”

With awareness rising, however, it may soon be a lot harder for traffickers to get away with it.


About the Author

Elaine Pofeldt
Elaine Pofeldt

Elaine Pofeldt is a freelance journalist in the New York City area who contributes to publications from CNBC to Forbes and is the author of the upcoming book The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business.