Signs of sex trafficking, or just “daddy-daughter” dates?

My story this morning on a new class teaching Ramsey County hotel employees how to identify signs of child prostitution provoked an interesting response from the perspective of a single dad who often traveled with his daughter.

John A. (he requested that I not use his last name) says some of the behaviors flagged by hospitality officials and law enforcement could apply to innocent individuals, including dads and their daughters. The list includes girls who are “made up” to look significantly older and numerous phone calls directed to the room.

Here’s a portion of his email, which he allowed me to share on the blog:

First, allow me to say, I am a 50-year old white guy, divorced many, many years with a now, adult daughter. When she was young, no matter where I lived in relation to where she and her mom were living, we had monthly “daddy-daughter” dates. These involved me traveling to her home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, renting a couple of motel rooms, to which I would take her and one or two of her girlfriends. I would occupy one room, provide lots of junk food, and watch a movie, while the teenaged girls ran around, went swimming, drank hot chocolate in the lobby and goofed around in “their” room. They did whatever teenage girls do when they have the safety of going to a motel with a trusted adult just next door.

Of course, being teenaged girls, they dressed, in some opinions, “provocatively,” made FAR too many phone calls from the room, hung out in the lobby and flirted with whomever would listen, and to all sorts of things, including checking in with that adult in the next room (me) periodically. All of these behaviors seemed very similar to those identified by hotelier Carlson and law enforcement that you reported in your story. And yet, it was just a single dad trying to provide a safe environment for his daughter.

I noted that one of most obvious red flags for housekeepers is the presence of child pornography in the room — something that wouldn’t apply to harmless, law-abiding fathers vacationing with their daughters. Here is a more complete list, provided by The Ramsey County Attorney’s office and the Minnesota Lodging Association:

– Guests with no luggage or identification

– Rooms paid for in cash

– Anyone who appears fearful, disoriented, or disheveled; who shows signs of physical abuse, who is being restricted from moving or communicating

– Young people made up to look significantly older, with significantly older “boyfriends”

– Guestrooms with continuous refusal of housekeeping services

– Presence of excessive pornography or any child pornography

– Sex paraphernalia

– Numerous smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc.

– Multiple credit cards or excessive cash

– Different men coming and going

– Hotel areas in which individuals are loitering/soliciting, or appearing to monitor common areas, or exchanging money

– Use of hotel computers to visit adult websites

In some of these cases, each item alone does probably not warrant suspicion. But in their totality, they paint a concerning picture in which hotel employees justifiably have reason to be concerned.

John A. acknowledged sex trafficking is a huge problem, but maintains that asking low-wage employees to turn in innocent people could have ruinous consequences. “I am showing up now with grandkids and don’t want to be labeled a pedophile because a cleaning person decides two criteria or one criteria is enough to call the cops,” he wrote in the email.

What do you think about the training and the criteria provided?