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Monday, September 25, 2023

Activities & Organizations

Houston students, hotels work together to prevent human trafficking

As the City of Houston gears up for Super Bowl LI, the University of Houston’s student-led Modern Abolitionist Coalition is encouraging hotels around the city to prepare for an influx in human trafficking.

Houston is already the No. 1 city in the United States for human trafficking, according to an article from KXAN. Given the impact the 2004 Super Bowl had on Houston’s sex trafficking scene, many awareness and prevention advocates, such as Houston’s own Elijah Rising, are predicting a large surge in trafficking activity in the coming days.

“Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. It’s the same mentality wherever the Super Bowl is,” said Canyon Sanford, the outreach coordinator for MAC. “Where there’s demand, somebody is going to bring the supply.”

In each city that hosts the game, the rate of human trafficking can nearly quadruple in the weeks leading up to and following the event, Sanford said.

“It kind of blows my mind that someone could hear that and not care,” said Anna Catherine Purcell, co-founder and awareness coordinator for MAC.

While a previous MAC event aimed to get the human trafficking hotline number into the hands of victims themselves, the organization’s goal Friday was to educate and provide resources to bystanders.

Just two days before the big game, MAC members set out to get information on the signs of human trafficking into the hands of people who unfortunately, Sanford said, are likely to encounter it: hotel staff and management.

“(Traffickers and victims) have to travel in and out of the hotel, so somebody’s going to see them,” Sanford said. “We hope that the person that sees them has the information and the training to identify exactly what they need to.”

During the event, students divided into groups and dispatched to Houston-area hotels with fliers highlighting warning signs. According to the flier, red flags, or signs of trafficking, can range from something as simple as paying in cash to clear evidence of violence. Age-inappropriate behavior, extreme submissiveness and symptoms of physical and emotional neglect also made the list.

Members of MAC called nearly every hotel in Houston in the weeks leading up to the event, Sanford said. Despite multiple hotels turning the information down when first contacted, each hotel visited Friday accepted the materials.

“Why would (a hotel) say no? It could be a son or daughter,” said Mary Simon, the assistant manager of SpringHill Suites, before promising to get the information to her employees.

The organization received help from UH’s on-campus Hilton in creating the fliers, Sanford said. In total, MAC offered participating hotels three versions of the information, targeting both English- and Spanish-speaking restaurant and bar employees, front desk clerks and housekeeping staff.

“They helped come up with the idea for housekeeping. That was something that we really took to heart because nobody else is doing it,” Sanford said. “In the future, I think what we’d like to do is start talking to hotels and getting something we could have on housekeeping carts permanently.”

As a top city for human trafficking, Houston boasts multiple groups focusing on victim recovery and prevention. In the past, MAC worked with another Houston-area group on a lipstick drive which aimed to spread the human trafficking hotline to industry women.

However, Purcell said it’s also important to reach out to bystanders. Often, she said, victims won’t call the hotline even if they have the resources.

“Victims often don’t identify themselves as victims,” Purcell said. “Since they’ve been coerced into this situation, they believe that they’ve chosen this life.”

Guest speakers at MAC’s fall awareness event emphasized that human trafficking isn’t always the Hollywood depiction of a woman being snatched and thrown into a van. In fact, Purcell said, the most common form of trafficking results from seemingly harmless and trusting relationships.

MAC will host two additional awareness events next week: a session to write valentines for survivors and a training for future health professionals on how to identify and respond to potential human trafficking situations.

“I don’t believe that everybody needs to volunteer,” Sanford said. “I just believe that everybody should care.”

The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is 1-888-373-7888. For more videos like this, visit the CoogTV website.

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