SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. --The Central Coast continues to be a hub for human traffickers, but a new state law could help law enforcement save more victims.
On Thursday, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office held a human trafficking awareness training for leaders in the hotel and motel industry. Senate Bill 970, a 2020 state legislation, will require employees working in hospitality to receive a special training at least once every two years.
“In the past we've had young people, often times teenage victims of human trafficking being taken to hotels by men much older," said D.A Dan Dow. “We have investigative staff, and also witness support staff that are gonna be training each one of these hotel employees about different, common trends that happen, things to look for.”
Thursday's training is the third one in a series of recent sessions at the D.A's office.
“It's good for our community, it'll educate a segment of the population that will come in contact with potential traffickers," Dow said.
Hotels like Inn at the Beach in Pismo Beach say employees have already been participating in trainings prior to the introduction of SB 970.
“We've been doing it for like a couple of years now because we just wanna create awareness," said general manager Gerald Tellez.
Tellez says there hasn't been any concerns at Inn at the Pier, but has seen human trafficking firsthand at another hotel.
“That's what we experienced in New York, it's that the person who rented the room was overly nice. He gave all my front desk agents tips. [He] rented a small room and he had a lot of people coming in and out of it.”
Tellez said the victims were girls in their early teens.
“There were about 12 of them in one room. So that was a quick indicator that something was going in there.”
He says that experience has prepared him to spot potential victims.
“[It's about] knowing your guests and discovering what they're here for. Discovering their purpose," he said. “We'll get [police] involved, tell them our scenario, what we're thinking is happening, and then they usually investigate.”
Dow says hotel workers should look out for certain behaviors in victims.
“If the young person, who might be the victim, is kind of not looking the hotel person in the eye... they might be hiding something from them.”
Dow says his office is currently handling two ongoing human trafficking cases; one of them is set for trial in January.
The next human trafficking awareness training for hotel employees is in February. Hotel managers interested in participating can contact Beth Raub, assistant director at the Victim Witness Assistance Center: email@example.com
Dow says next Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is officially proclaiming January as human trafficking awareness month in SLO County.