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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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To combat human trafficking, Olmsted County looks to hospitality workers for help

To combat human trafficking, Olmsted County looks to hospitality workers for help

In an effort to prevent human trafficking, Olmsted County is launching an initiative to train hotel workers on the potential warning signs. 

Last month, the county sent out a brief survey to more than 100 local lodging establishments asking about their awareness of human trafficking, if they currently have any policies on the books, and whether they would be interested in any support or resources to train their staff.

The county's public health department plans to begin providing information and training about human trafficking during inspections of the hotels. Depending on the feedback it receives in the survey, the county may also consider providing large-scale training sessions for multiple establishments or individualized trainings for specific groups of staff.

"We know that a lot of the trafficking that occurs happens in lodging establishments," said Cody Miller, an environmental health specialist for Olmsted County Public Health Services. "We also have a direct connection with those establishments since we inspect them annually. Our goal is to educate the people who are most likely to see signs of or notice human trafficking occurring."

Hotels and motels are often attractive locations for traffickers, given the privacy available inside a room. By educating hospitality workers — especially housekeeping staff who are in the rooms and front desk workers who monitor guest entry — the county hopes to increase reporting of suspected trafficking. 

"The more people that can identify the signs and know what to do when they suspect something, the better chance we have of saving a victim from the life of human trafficking," said Miller.

Human trafficking, according to the federal government, is a form of a modern day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Often hidden from plain sight, the trafficking of humans ranks second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime.

Here in southeast Minnesota, the problem is more prevalent than one might expect. In just the past two years, 166 people in Olmsted County were referred to services for exploited/trafficked individuals, according to the 2017 Safe Harbor Evaluation Report. That's the third highest of any county in the state, behind only Hennepin (244) and St. Louis (230) counties.

"Ultimately, human trafficking is here, it’s in our county, and we are working to raise awareness and combat it," said Miller.

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Cover photo: File / Pixabay

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