The FBI will tell you that there are no comforting statistics that show how to put a dent in the commercial sex trade. Instead, success is in the individuals who accept help.
But it’s not always police and prosecutors putting in the work, sometimes allies are found in hotel clerks with a keen eye.
If you live in Snohomish County then chances are you’ve probably seen this hotel. It’s not the stereotypical rundown motel you’d normally associate with prostitution.
“Early on my experience was family vacations, like, what my family did and so you know I grew up in the north end of Seattle and so I was pretty sheltered. I was really sheltered,” hotel manager Tricia said.
Her experience is akin to many of ours. We’re all a bit innocent until given the knowledge that sex with girls is sold in hotel rooms. Then, life is never really the same.
“One of the things that you figure out very early on is that when people come to your hotel with a local address, it’s usually because they want to do something in your hotel that they won’t do in their own home,” Tricia said.
Tricia’s name has been changed because she works with the FBI by offering her hotel as a place to carry out sting operations. That’s also why the name of the hotel is not being used.
“It felt an awful lot like a TV show that you would watch,” Tricia said.
Why does she help them?
“I have access and also a strong sense of there’s a problem and we need to address it.”
Her ownership over helping solve the problem is one of the biggest shifts in the last 20 years in how law enforcement has tackled the problem of suburban sexual slavery. They get hotel and motel managers to come together and help.
“I agree there’s a level of culpability that hotel owners need to understand and also put their foot down and say ‘we are not going to play a part in this’,” Tricia said.
In fact, there are a few sections of the law that can apply to hotels and motels; if they know it’s happening in one of their rooms and gets something of value for participating or if they provide a room and a minor is involved in commercial sex.
Along with cooperating with the law, hotel managers like Tricia know what to look for. Employees get regular training on spotting a nefarious situations from the local organization called Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (B.E.S.T.).
“Identifying who is being utilized in sex trafficking and understanding that it’s local kids, that it’s not the stereotypical bus loads of people coming from other countries. I mean, it really is our kids that you see in the mall, on the streets. [They] look like normal kids at school that are getting looped into sex trafficking,” Tricia said.
And also, how to identify a pimp and a prostitute. You wouldn’t want a hotel clerk mistaking a father and daughter duo. Sounds unlikely, but you never know. These girls are young so the training from B.E.S.T. is essential.
“It’s never just one thing, it usually is several little identifying features you know at check in,” Tricia said. That can be an unwillingness to make eye contact at check in or if the person is fidgety or uncomfortable. “And then you have the very concrete piece where the picture ID does not match the credit card, the name of the credit card or when the reservation was made,” Tricia said.
It would be easy for this hotel manager to turn turn a blind eye. Forced prostitution isn’t all on her shoulders — or any one person — but she acts like it is. And that’s comforting to know, isn’t it? That if it’s going to exist in your neighborhood then at least there are allies. Allies like Charlotte, who was held as a sex slave but found a way out.
“For me, it was waking up to who I really am. Not what this world told me who I was or what the circumstances or the lifestyles or all the circumstances that happened to me. But learning to forgive and let that go and learning who I am today in spite of what has happened to me,” Charlotte said.
And there was also Everett Police Detective Aaron DeFolo and Forensic Nurse Paula Newman-Skomski who are pushing for a recovery center for women trafficked in Snohomish County.
“Having a place for them to go to give them hope is really the key because right now what do you say? You know ‘stop being a prostitute?’ well … and do what? what are their options?” Paula said.
And, of course, there’s Tricia.
“I think a lot of it is I have a child and I see the vulnerability and it hurts my heart and there’s a sense of social justice that it needs to be corrected and we need to help these kids find a way out,” Tricia said.