With the Super Bowl headed to the Meadowlands, a coalition of activists gathered in Whippany to call on the hotel industry to help prevent an anticipated upsurge in prostitution.
Some 90 representatives of the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking gathered at the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus June 14 to coordinate strategies surrounding the Feb. 2, 2014, Super Bowl.
“There is a correlation between trafficking and people coming into the state for sports events,” said conference organizer Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Gorelick addressed activists representing 47 community organizations. “We want to do all we can to stop trafficking,” she said. “We have a big role we can play by educating, raising awareness, and taking actions the government cannot take. We have a moment in time where maybe we can make a difference and maybe we can save some lives.”
Kate Lee of the Junior League of the NJ Public Affairs Committee agreed that the travel and hospitality industry is in a position to address prostitution and other forms of exploitation associated with the partying by fans who gather for the event.
“With proper training on this issue, hotel and airline employees can become an army with eyes and ears equipped with knowledge of how to spot suspicious activity and how to report it so that appropriate actions can be taken,” she said.
Michelle Guelbart, private sector project coordinator for ECPAT USA (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), led an hour-long session on getting the word out.
“Sexual exploitation is the second-largest growing criminal industry in the world,” she said. According to Guelbart, some 100,000 to 200,000 youngsters under 18 are trafficked in the United States each year, while 1.2 million are trafficked worldwide. “At least 45 percent were exploited in hotels,” she said, citing a 2008 study by the Center for Court Innovation at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Hotel employees need to be empowered to take actions against such exploitation, said Guelbart.
She cited U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-Dist. 4), who during a visit to Kiev just last week singled out the travel industry and urged its professionals to identify potential victims of human trafficking. Smith is the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly special representative on human trafficking issues.
“The airline and hotel industries should be on the front lines of the fight against human trafficking,” said Guelbart. “If your legislator thinks it’s important, you know it’s important.”
Guelbart asked her audience to help promote her organization’s Child-Protection Code of Conduct. It provides training aids and sets ethical standards for combating trafficking in the travel industry.
“The coalition is creating a strategy for New Jersey and mobilizing people into action,” Gorelick told NJJN. “We have a list of at least 200 hotels. One group can make contact with managers at four to six hotels. We want to organize a training program that hotel managers can attend before the Super Bowl so they will know how to talk about it with their staffs. That is our next step.”