Something was just a little off with the man and girl in the elevator. The girl was looking down, timid and quiet. She was maybe 5 or 6, wearing dirty clothes. The man with the girl was talking to another man in the elevator. They exchanged emails. “It was just an eerie feeling,” said Carmela Simmons, a lobby attendant at the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Chattanooga. “Most kids look around, play, try to press buttons on the elevator. This little girl was like no eye contact, no nothing.” Then the door slid open and the man and girl were gone.
Months later, Simmons, an employee of Chattanooga-based hotel company Vision Hospitality Group Inc., went through the company’s new human trafficking awareness training. Vision Hospitality is on track to be the first Tennessee-based company to become a member of the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct (The Code), a certification given by End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT), an international organization that fights human trafficking.
Vision’s training will be mandatory for the company’s about 1,000 employees. Bill Mish, general manager at the DoubleTree, hopes to take Vision’s training and spread it throughout the state with help from the Tennessee Hospitality Association. “As an industry, it’s something we need to recognize,” he said. “Obviously we want to be ahead of it, so we can deter these idiots from coming onto our properties to begin with.”
Back on the ground level, a newly trained Simmons is keeping her eyes peeled. Now that she knows what to look for, she would report an incident like the one in the elevator to her direct boss, who could call the police or a human trafficking hot line.
And that’s the point, said Mitch Patel, Vision Hospitality president and CEO. “We don’t want to alarm people, but the bottom line is that these girls are 12, 13 years old,” he said. “And I’ve got a 12-year-old. So it hits home. It’s scary, right? If we can help one person, I’ll feel like we’ve done our best.”
Learn more at Shelly Bradbury’s Times Free Press article: Hotels help fight human trafficking: Chattanooga company may be first in Tennessee to get certification.