If you’re checking into a motel or hotel in Monterey County this week – and with the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in town, more than 125,000 visitors are checking in this week – you’re likely going to come across a sign featuring the District Attorney’s Office emblem, a phone number in large print and a call to action in English, Spanish and Tagalog.
The phone number is for the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and the call to action is this: If you or someone you know is being forced to engage in any activity and cannot leave – whether it’s commercial sex work, housework, farm work, construction, factory, retail or restaurant work, or any other activity – call the hotline number (888-539-2373) or text 233-733 (BeFree). The hotlines are available 24/7, aren’t operated by any government agency (so no need to fear coming across ICE, for example) and are accessible in more than 160 languages.
Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni announced the signs were being distributed to every hotel and motel in the county on Jan. 22 in what she called “A Day of Action.” January is Human Trafficking Awareness month, but the timing of the day of action, in which law enforcement agencies from all over the county were sent out to visit hotels to make sure they were complying with the law requiring the signs – and to encourage compliance for businesses that didn’t have signage up – wasn’t a coincidence.
When big events – golf tournaments, the California Rodeo, motorcycle and auto races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – come to town, human trafficking comes with it, especially in the form of sex workers who have been forced into that life and don’t have the money, resources or wherewithal to get out of it.
When it comes to human trafficking, “California is on fire, and our area is on fire as well,” Pacioni said. “It’s common to find this kind of activity with events because there’s a lot of money involved, although you don’t necessarily have to have money to commit this crime.”
And, she added, don’t refer to the individuals buying sex as “johns,” traditional law enforcement vernacular. “We call them purchasers. They’re purchasing people, for sex and labor.”
As law enforcement spread out across Monterey County to make sure hotels are complying with the requirements of Civil Code section 52.6 to post the signage – first violation gets a warning, and subsequent violations get fined $500 and then $1,000 – one hotel was widely regarded as being ahead of the game.
At the Portola Hotel & Spa, Mark Clark heads up security. He retired as a Salinas Police investigations sergeant in 2004, and joined Portola two years ago. Part of his mission is to make sure the entire staff – from management to housekeeping – is trained in aspects of security; for example, active shooter training. At a recent symposium on human trafficking, Clark says he was surprised to learn a few things. For example, teenagers might see 10 advertisements a day from people attempting to lure them into trafficking. During major events, including the AT&T, that number swells to 100 such ads.
Clark connected with Deborah Pembrook, human trafficking outreach manager at the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center, which provides training, free of charge, to independently owned motels and hotels. She’s done trainings at Portola for the management and housekeeping teams, both in English and Spanish, in how to recognize instances of trafficking.
“Our housekeepers are the eyes and ears of the hotel. They see the dark side of the world, but, honestly, they might see things that they don’t know are a problem,” Clark says.
Sometimes, the circumstances are obvious: Multiple men entering a room when you might normally see a guest and a visitor. Or multiple young women associated with a single room, or multiple rooms tied to a single guest. After a room is vacated, there might be drug paraphernalia and multiple used condoms left behind.
“Those tells start to paint a picture,” Clark says. And if they see the picture early enough, the housekeepers can report to the security staff, which can then report to law enforcement, and together they can possibly stop the situation.
MARY DUAN writes Local Spin for Monterey County Weekly. Reach her at email@example.com or follow her at twitter.com/maryrduan