Hospitality Management Students Learn Warning Signs of Human Trafficking

Something just did not seem right about the older man and young girl who were attempting to check into a Youngstown-area hotel in late 2016.

The man seemed suspicious. The girl, whom he identified as his daughter, looked ill.

When he provided a pre-paid credit card as tender for the room, a quick-thinking hotel clerk asked for his driver’s license because the card was not issued in someone’s name.

The clerk then made up an excuse to step into a back office, telling the man that he had to run the card on a different machine in the back.

Instead, the clerk called police and made a copy of the man’s driver’s license.

Police advised him to give the couple a room and to call back once they were settled. When police arrived, they raided the room and found the girl, 16, and under the effects of drugs, had been missing from Columbus since she was 14, a victim of human trafficking.

Susan Laird, keynote speaker for the Anti-Human Trafficking Conference hosted recently by the Kent State University’s College of Education, Health and Human Services used the true scenario to open her address at the conference.

Ms. Laird is a professional clinical counselor from Boardman, who specializes in working with high-risk youth. She has taught at Youngstown State University for 27 years as adjunct faculty in sociology and serves as executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition Against Human Trafficking, also known as NEOCAHT.

Those in the field of hospitality management, Ms. Laird said, will find the crime of human trafficking closely related to their careers because of the high use of hotel rooms by traffickers and because prostitution is a traditional issue at large events such as sports tournaments and conventions.

It is the darker side of hospitality management.

Ms. Laird offers training to hotel personnel, schools, police departments and others who want to learn about human trafficking, its warning signs and ways to prevent it.

The conference was organized by the Convention Sales and Management Class, explained the class’s instructor, Ning-Kuang Chuang, Ph.D., associate professor of Hospitality Management.

Dr. Chuang said that each semester she encourages her class to plan an event to serve as a form of community outreach and to “empower her students to do something meaningful.”

Students, she said, can come to class, read their texts and take tests, or they can put their skills to work to actually help someone.

“I want to convey an idea that every one of them can make a difference,” Dr. Chuang said.

The class chose the topic of human trafficking, which has become widespread in Ohio.

It’s not the first time Kent State students have worked to shed light on the human trafficking issue.

In April 2016, the School of Communication Studies hosted its Global Issues Forum on the topic of Human Trafficking: A Global and Local Epidemic.

For the past two years, the university’s Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement sponsored an alternative winter break program, Understanding Sex Trafficking, in Columbus in early January.

Graduate student Amanda Bevington, originated the program, working with Community Development for All People, a Columbus non-profit group to plan a program to educate Kent State students about the topic, now so prevalent in Ohio.

Ms. Bevington, of Solon, is in the second year of her graduate studies, working toward a master’s degree in higher education administration and student personnel. The program, she said, is designed to increase awareness about human trafficking and, hopefully, encourage participants to advocate for trafficking victims.

The program offers testimony from former trafficking victims and helps to debunk myths about the women caught up in human trafficking, explaining how many are forced into the life through fear or desperation, Ms. Bevington said.

Ohio ranks fifth in the nation for human trafficking, Ms. Laird explained, due in part to the state’s convenient highway system that makes it easy to move people.

While human trafficking also involves trafficking illegal workers for labor, 86 percent is for sex trade, she explained. Most are girls between the ages of 11 and 13, although some are as young as age 5. They come from all walks of life, races and socio-economic classes, she said.

A small percentage of traffickers actually kidnap children and hold them against their will, Ms. Laird explained.

The majority, though, are either family members, friends or boyfriends -- so called “Romeo traffickers” -- who prey on vulnerable girls, plying them with attention, clothes and other gifts before forcing them into the sex trade, often by getting them hooked on heroin.

The crime, Ms. Laird said, continues because there is a willing customer base of “johns”, who come from all walks of life, including police officers, judges and the clergy. Men buy sex, in part, because there is little punishment for doing so, she noted.

Ms. Laird encouraged the students in attendance to take the issue seriously as they pursue their careers, and, like the hotel clerk, be alert to the warning signs.

“I know when something doesn’t look right and so do you,” Ms. Laird said. “If you see something, say something.”

The conference also included a panel discussion, in which Ms. Laird participated along with Halle Kelly, a caseworker for RAHAB Ministries Adult Safe House in Portage County; Marilyn Raux, a volunteer mentor for trafficked women at the safe house; and Kristi Moncier, a former trafficked woman who turned her life around at the RAHAB safe house.

Ms. Kelly encouraged audience members to get involved through volunteer work, or by educating their peers.

“Our culture is over-sexualized,” she said, “It’s a rite of passage to go to a strip club, but what they don’t realize is those girls are being trafficked.”

She also encouraged the group to be alert and contact authorities when something does not seem right. “No call is too small to put into the police,” she said.

Ms. Moncier, now sober for more than two years, recalled her own experience and how she was paralyzed by fear and drugs.

“The drugs start to overtake you at some point,” she said, “The heroin effects the body so bad you are so sick you aren’t in your right mind. You really don’t care about yourself anymore. You give up.”

To learn more about the coalition, visit


POSTED: Monday, January 29, 2018 - 8:51am
UPDATED: Monday, January 29, 2018 - 9:06am
Lisa Abraham