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Sex trafficking in the short-term rental industry: Part 2

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How to prevent it

Sex trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world with short-term rentals quickly becoming a prime venue for traffickers. Autohost worked with human trafficking experts to find out more about sex trafficking in the industry and how property managers can put an end to it. Here’s what we found out:

Part 1 of our sex trafficking blog series covered the realities and signs of sex trafficking in the short-term rental industry. In this blog, we’ll explain how to use that information to prevent sex trafficking from happening in your properties.

The hospitality industry is at the front line of sex trafficking. About 75% of U.S.-based human trafficking survivors report having some contact with a hotel or motel during their trafficking experience, according to Polaris, a non-profit organization devoted to stopping human trafficking. 

As the industry learns about how sex trafficking networks operate, hotel employees are being trained to recognize sex trafficking through visual signs, such as a scared or drugged-looking child entering the hotel with an adult, or multiple guests visiting the same room. 

But short-term rentals rarely have employees on site, making it next to impossible to detect sex traffickers entering your properties. Instead, property managers need to deter traffickers before they check in. Here’s how:

Educate yourself on local legislation

Legislation has and will continue to play a huge role in preventing sex trafficking in hospitality. Several U.S. states require hospitality workers to receive training in how to spot sex trafficking, and some states have gone as far as enacting laws to address the responsibility of lodging facilities, such as hotels and motels, to prevent this type of criminal activity.

But few of these laws explicitly include short-term rentals in their sex trafficking legislation and mandated training. As a result, many property managers could be turning a blind eye to sex trafficking at their properties without knowing it.

California has attempted to address this issue by amending its legislation to include short-term rentals. The state has made it a requirement for property managers to post a notice on the property, in clear view of the public, that contains information on services for victims of slavery and human trafficking. Property management companies are also required to provide training for employees on how to detect sex trafficking and how to initiate the appropriate response.

Regardless of the laws on sex trafficking in your region, you don’t want to be liable for a criminal act in your property. After all, it’s the responsibility of the property manager to do their due diligence in preventing incidents. Start by educating your team on the problem and giving them access to the right resources and training programs.

Update your listing

The first thing you can do is adjust your messaging at the listing level. Wherever possible, update your descriptions to let guests know that you monitor the property and abide by all regulations designed to prevent sex trafficking. These kinds of preemptive warnings should deter traffickers from booking your properties.

Screen your guests

In case a trafficker still decides to book your property, make sure you have a thorough guest-screening process in place to flag any warning signs. Collect as much information as possible from the guest, including a government-issued ID, a credit card and a guest list. 

Suspicious or mismatched information could be a sign the guest is trying to mask their identity, but don’t jump to conclusions. Follow up with the guest to find out why there’s a discrepancy. There may be a logical explanation. But if the guest refuses to provide more information, you might be better off canceling the booking.

If you still have any suspicions about the guest, run a background check and see if their name comes up on any sex offender lists. 

Get started screening your guests

Communicate with the guest

Traffickers don’t want to draw attention, so they’ll probably try to keep communication with you to a minimum, says human trafficking expert Dr. Judy Osterhage, who provides courses for hospitality employees on how to detect trafficking. Keep an open line of communication with the guest and watch for anyone that changes their story about why they’re traveling or who they’re traveling with.

This is also a good opportunity to tell the guest that you routinely visit the property for “wellness checks.” Even if that’s not the case, the threat of a random drop-by could be enough of a deterrent, says Osterhage.

Post an anti-sex trafficking notice

Some states require hospitality operators to post an anti-sex trafficking notice on the property. Even if not required by law, consider posting a prominent sign in the front window or front door of your property. The sign should include a statement that says you follow all anti-sex trafficking legislation, along with information on how victims can access essential resources and services for victims. 

It’s good practice to make resources available for guests at the property, says Elaine McCartin, Associate Director of Corporate Partnerships at Polaris. That way, if and when they’re ready, the victim can seek help.

Monitor your properties

To follow up your guest screening, install noise sensors inside your property and cameras on the exterior. By keeping tabs on the property, you can act quickly should there be any suspicious activity. In the case of sex trafficking, watch for multiple guests visiting the property for short periods of time.

Maintain a good relationship with your neighbors

By building strong relationships with your neighbors, you can gain eyes and ears on-site. Show them you prioritize security, so if anything goes wrong, they’ll notify you first.

Who to contact if you suspect sex trafficking is happening at your properties

If it’s an emergency situation, where there’s a threat of imminent danger, contact your local police. Otherwise, reach out to the trafficking hotline in your region:

Canada: Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline

U.S.: National Human Trafficking Hotline 

Europe: National Hotlines 

Trafficking hotlines are better equipped to deal with situations involving sex trafficking. The hotline can contact the appropriate law enforcement and service provider, making sure the victim gains an advocate who can help them navigate the criminal justice system. 

For signs that sex trafficking might be happening in your properties, check out part 1 of our blog series.

For training resources for your team, check out www.traffickingawareness.org.