MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and one business group in Marquette is going above and beyond, hoping to make sure that staff can recognize the signs, and help prevent cases.
Nearly 50 employees from the Superior Oasis family of businesses were learning more Monday morning, about the signs and prevention of human trafficking.
"This is something that is far reaching and wide ranging if you count law enforcement,” said Brian Jensen, director of operations for Superior Oasis. “We need to make sure that we are helping them the best we can to make sure this ends."
Superior Oasis includes the Comfort Suites, Days Inn, the My Place Hotel, and Hudson's Classic Grill.
Experts say that hotels are the front lines when it comes to sex trafficking cases.
"There's not much of it that goes on that doesn't involve a hotel at one point or another,” said Jensen. “I mentioned that I had only had a couple experiences with this in my 45 years of managing hotels, but that could be because I was naive."
Employees were taught to recognize suspicious behavior, like a controlling party during check in, minors who look unrelated to the adults that they are with, and customers looking to pay exclusively with cash.
"We've been operating for years under these practices, getting names at check in, not accepting cash, keeping an eye out for any suspicious behaviors,” said Lee Brown, general manager of the My Place Hotel. “If we can stop it, if we can save one person, it's all worthwhile."
Training also pointed out that the perceived isolation of Upper Michigan is not a deterrent. With the widespread use of the internet, sex trafficking cases are an inevitability in any part of the country.
According to the Polaris Project, Michigan had 383 cases reported in 2018 when statistics were last available. That’s up from just 68 cases in 2012. Experts say that this is a severely under-reported crime, and that number is likely just a small fraction of the real amount of victims.
"We're not looking to be the only hotels who are trained, we just want to make sure that we're leading the way,” said Brown. “We want every hotel in Marquette to be preventing human trafficking."
Monday's training was meant to make sure that all current staff are certified. Brown says that the goal now, is to make sure all new hires, from now on, go through the same training.
For more information on reporting human trafficking in Michigan, click here.