MATLACHA, Fla. — The human trafficking bill sponsored by Fort Myers Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen would require hotel employees like Wendie Howard at Bridgewater Inn in Matlacha to detect and possibly even prevent operations on their watch.
Howard said there aren’t many laws in place right now that allow hotel workers to stop trafficking.
“With the Privacy Act you can’t say who’s staying at your hotel,” she said.
The bill would mandate training for hotel employees who regularly interact with guests to identify and report suspected trafficking to law enforcement.
Melissa Cobb works with Howard and said if it becomes law, they may be able to help trafficked victims who can’t speak up for themselves.
“They don’t know what to say. They don’t know how to say it. They’re scared. With the proper training we could possibly identify some of them without them having to say anything and you know, maybe save them,” she said.
And hotels would be held responsible if the don’t say anything. They could face up to $1,000 in fines per day for violations like failing to train employees, or alerting the police or department of children and families. Police officers could also lose certifications if they don’t take the training outlined in the bill.
If passed, the bill would also require those convicted of soliciting or enticing someone else to prostitute to add their names to the soliciting for prostitution registry.
Howard said the training would be necessary before reporting trafficking.
“Right now most people don’t know what to look for,” she said.
Linda Oberhaus with the shelter for abused women and children names one thing hotel workers can watch for if they’re suspicious.
“I think some of those signs might be a younger female with an older male…young females who appear to be under the influence,” she said.
The bill would also allow victims convicted of crimes under the direction of a trafficker…to petition that their record get expunged. Oberhaus said it could give those victims a second chance.
“It’s going to help them in terms of getting back on their feet, being able to get decent employment, and even just their basic voting rights,” she said.
Oberhaus recommends anyone who has been a victim of sex trafficking or domestic violence to call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-500-1119.
The bill is currently being reviewed by house committees. If passed the law would go into effect by January 1, 20-20.