BARBOURSVILLE, WV (WOWK) – As the Huntington area continues to battle the drug epidemic, law enforcement is facing another issue that’s tied to it: human trafficking. Local police officers and hotel employees are now learning new ways to combat the issue.
When the General Manager of the Hampton Inn in Barboursville, Randy Kveton, learned about human trafficking going on in hotels across the country, he knew his staff and community needed their own training seminar on the issue.
The hotel staff reached out to the Huntington Police Department to learn more about the scope of the issue, and their fears were confirmed.
“You kind of get that mindset of ‘it’s not happening where we are,’ so we wanted to reach out and find out if it was,” said Kveton. “And it’s a lot worse than what we think.”
In fact, areas where there’s a high rate of drug addiction can become hotbeds for human trafficking.
“Some traffickers will use opioids or those addicted to opioids as a means of control, to keep them trapped in these situations of exploitation,” said Bill Woolf, Executive Director of Just Ask Prevention. “We’ve also seen other instances where adult parents have become addicted to opioids and, as a means to sustain their addiction, they sell their own children.”
In response, local law enforcement and employees from eight area hotels learned new training Monday on how to combat human trafficking.
Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial released the following statement on the training:
“Human trafficking is one of the most horrid crimes occurring in our country. Being untrained on what to look for could lead to us being unwitting participants in this atrocity. I encourage participation in this training in order for us all to be better able to protect the victims, our businesses and our community.”
Attendees learned new strategies on how to respond to human trafficking and what warning signs to look for.
“We’re looking for high levels of foot traffic in and out of hotels and secrecy,” said Woolf. “We’re looking for individuals who may be controlled by another person or guest of the hotel.”
Human trafficking can often go unnoticed, or be mistaken for prostitution. According to Woolf, though, only 15 percent of people engaged in prostitution are actually consenting participants. The rest are victims of human trafficking.
However, local hotels and law enforcement hope better education can save future victims.
“You all have the opportunity to save someone’s life,” Woolf told the group.