Iowa launches new human trafficking awareness training for local lodging

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(ABC 6 News) – Under state law passed in 2020, lodging providers are now required to complete human trafficking awareness training if they use public funds. Any hotel or motel that wants to host public events or conferences, or receives money from any public entity has to complete this online training starting Jan. 1. This includes all staff — from front desk workers to cleaning staff. It’s free online curriculum with videos and a test.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety says that this will likely affect every community in Iowa. The DPS’s Office to Combat Human Trafficking is in charge of making sure people follow the new law. Reporting by the Office to Combat Human Trafficking shows a steady increase in human-trafficking-related reports. However recent years as an exception due to the pandemic.

"Whether it’s sex trafficking or labor trafficking, they might stay at hotels. They might use the hotels to facilitate the trafficking incidences. This is often an unseen crime," Patrick Waymire, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Intelligence, said.

The Iowa legislature passed this law in 2020 — hoping that if more lodging employees know what qualifies as suspicious behavior they’ll know when to report to law enforcement. Local hotel employees are confident they can follow through.

"Just being aware of the surroundings when you have, you know, hundreds of people depending on the size of your hotel," said Stephani Castillo, assistant general manager at the AmericInn in Clear Lake.

The training enforces that human trafficking can happen anywhere — even in small tight-knit towns like Clear Lake.

"It makes you realize that this is actually happening. Here," Castillo said.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 78 reports of human trafficking cases mentioning Iowa in 2020. The Department of Public Safety anticipates that the more lodging businesses are certified, the more life-saving reports the department will get.

"It kind of just opens your eyes to always be aware," said Castillo.

There’s a complete list of certified businesses on the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s website.