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Hotel workers train to intercept human trafficking

Hilton Garden Inn in West Knoxville is one of several hotels in the area that train staff to recognize signs of human trafficking.

Twenty-two men face charges after a sex trafficking sting in Middle Tennessee. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said 11 of those men are now in the custody of immigration officials.

Investigators said the number of men involved in the sting was shocking and proves there's a need for "continued vigilance" in every community.

The TBI said educating both law enforcement and the public on what human trafficking looks like is key.

That includes training hotel staff on the signs to look for.

Like any hotel across America, the staff at the Hilton Garden Inn in West Knoxville never know who’s walking through their doors. Managers there say they have an obligation to fight against trafficking.

"We have a moral and ethical responsibility to fight this disease, if you will," Fred Bullard, the general manager, said.

Bullard said his staff is trained to be on the lookout for any and all signs of trafficking. That training starts at the front desk.

"We don't allow to take cash, which the traffickers like to do. They like to pay day-by-day. We don't allow that. We have to have a credit card and an I.D.," Bullard said.

Staff keep an eye on who's coming in and out of rooms. They look for cameras or multiple laptops - tools traffickers could be using to sell sex.

"They are supposed to contact the manager on duty immediately and then the manager on duty will assess the problem and call the police, if warranted," Bullard said.

"Trafficking is happening in every community," Kate Trudell, executive director of the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, said.

She said hotel employees sit on the front lines of this issue.

"Our ability to train and equip those people to recognize red flags and know how to respond to situations is so crucial to us being able to identify victims and hold perpetrators accountable," Trudell said.

Bullard said he knows his line of work can play a part in stopping trafficking.

"Hotels are their place to go and if we can keep them out then we've done what we're supposed to do," he said.

Bullard is just one of many hotel general managers in the area taking this issue seriously. His staff has training once a year to remind them of the signs and to make sure all new employees are educated.

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