WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WV (WOAY) – January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Because of this, the West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association dedicated a portion of their annual Hospitality University Conference at The Greenbrier to discuss the issue.
On the “No Room for Trafficking” panel was West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey who spoke with hotel and tourism professionals from across the state about the growing concern.
Human trafficking is one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world. Morrisey said that years ago, linkages between the opioid epidemic and human trafficking were established thus creating the concern in state.
“West Virginia was not putting enough time and attention to it, so we’ve stepped in and we’re doing an enormous amount of education now around the state and we’re doing some of that today because it is important to hit all different types of people,” Morrisey said. “Law enforcement, healthcare professionals, businesses, different industry segments so that the educational level about human trafficking goes up.”
Scott Duarte serves on the board of directors of WVHTA and says that including this topic was important this year because often times, it is the hotel workers who are most likely to pick up on trafficking patterns.
“It’s about getting it into the front lines,” Durate said. “The people who are working at our front desks and our housekeeping departments just to be aware and helping them to see what the signs actually are.”
Some of those signs addressed included patterns of the same people checking in and the same people going into rooms and multiple room purchases as well as people hanging out in the hallway by a room.
While it might seem like an issue that only happens in big cities, Morrisey says there is action in West Virginia.
“A lot of times, when you have the confluence of a lot of the major interstates, so you see it up toward Wheeling, you see it down in Princeton where you have 460 and 77 coming together,” Morrisey said.
As it becomes more prevalent in the state, the goal is for the hotel and tourism leaders in the room to take back what they learned and educate those around them in the business to know the signs.
If you are suspicious of any activity you feel may be linked to this growing criminal industry, experts say it is best to call 911.
If you are personally experiencing it or wish to report, there is a hotline as well: 1-888-373-7888.