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October 29, 2014
ECPAT-USA Continues Private Sector Engagement
    by Robert Kropp

The organization's efforts to eradicate the commercial sexual exploitation of children have succeeded in encouraging more than 35 companies to implement the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct.

When I interviewed Carol Smolenski, the Executive Director of ECPAT-USA, in 2009, she revealed that while 623 hospitality companies had signed the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, only five were headquartered in the US. Signatories to the Code commit to enacting responsible policies and employee training to ensure that children are protected from sexual exploitation.

“We've always had extreme reluctance from US companies to talk to us at all,” Smolenski said at the time. “We tried to get US airlines to train employees and show an in-flight video, but they all refused.”

In the five years since that interview, the number of signatories to the Code has increased to more than 1,300 tourism companies from 66 countries. The number of US-based signatories has increased as well, with the Carlson, Hilton, and Wyndham hotel chains among the higher profile companies that have joined.

The corporate responsibility of US tourism companies to address the sex trafficking of children was highlighted recently by ECPAT-USA, which stated, “American children are also exploited, often at hotels within the US.” The organization has established the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, which has been signed by more than 35 companies and trade associations.

“This year alone more than 17,000 travel professionals were trained on how to identify a victim of sex trafficking,” ECPAT-USA stated. “When Delta Air Lines began its training program last year, they immediately passed on 5 tips about suspected human trafficking cases to the Department of Homeland Security.”

“ECPAT-USA trained thousands more this year in partnership with the the American Hotel and Lodging Association Educational Institute and in individual training sessions and webinars,” the organization continued. The two organizations have collaborated on an online training course for hotel employees, The Role of Hospitality in Preventing and Reacting to Child Trafficking.

As a result of the training, “I am confident there will be a tremendous increase in the level of protection for children who are at risk for sexual exploitation.” Smolenski said.

To further underscore the fact that child sex trafficking does indeed hit close to home, ECPAT-USA has released a Public Service Announcement (PSA) entitled It Happens Here. Launched through the organization's partnership with BRIC Media Arts, the video states at the outset, “Over 100,000 children are victims of sex trafficking in the US.”

The PSA seeks to dispel two commonly held misconceptions about child sex trafficking: that it is largely confined to foreign nations, and that the vast majority of victims are girls. A recently published discussion paper states, “Responses from service providers clearly indicate that the scope of CSEB (commercial sexual exploitation of boys) is vastly under reported, that commercial sexual exploitation poses very significant risks to their health and their lives; that gay and transgenders are over-represented as a proportion of the sexually exploited boys; and that there is a shortage of services for these boys.”

Earlier this month, ECPAT-USA and its allies realized a significant victory when an anti-sex trafficking bill, authored by Congressman Erik Paulsen of Minnesota, was signed into law by President Obama.


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