ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – It’s happening every day across the United States and around the world, at fine hotels as well as seedy motels. Millions of children are being exploited in the global child sex trade. At least 300,000 American children and 1.2 million children worldwide are prostituted each year according to UNICEF, and the average age when they first become involved is just 12 to 14.
“I’ve worked in the hotel industry for 20 years and had no idea this was happening,” said Kimberly Ritter, a senior account manager at Nix Conference & Meeting Management, a St. Louis firm that is leading the charge among meeting planners to raise awareness and help end child sex trafficking.
On January 11, 2012, Nix became the first company to sign a new Meeting Planner’s Code of Conduct, which they helped develop with ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking). They are encouraging meeting planners worldwide to join them in addressing child sex trafficking at every hotel where they do business.
“Most hotel executives are unaware that this exploitation of children exists at their properties,” Ritter said. “But once they know what to look for, they can establish policies, train staff and take action.”
Nix has an extensive reach in the hotel industry. They research more than 500 hotels, visit more than 50 hotels in the U. S. and internationally, and book more than 21,000 room nights a year on behalf of their clients. Their peers in the meeting planning industry book hundreds of thousands of hotel room nights each year.
Nix recently added a clause to their standard Request for Proposal, asking hotel management about their policies on human trafficking.
“One hotel responded that they have pedestrian crosswalks in front of their entrance,” said Jane Quinn, Principal at Nix. “Human traffickers, unfortunately, depend on that kind of naivety to carry out their operations.”
Nix discusses child sex trafficking and exploitation in one-on-one meetings with hotel general managers, provides written materials, and encourages them to sign the ECPAT-USA Hotel Code of Conduct.
“As meeting and conference planners, we have the ability to bring this issue to light,” said Kimberly Ritter of Nix. “Our influence and connections with hotel managers can help stop child sex trafficking.”
Nix Conference & Meeting Management first learned about the issue of child sex trafficking in hotels several years ago while researching conference sites for a client, the Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph, who asked them to inquire about hotel policies on human trafficking.
Ultimately, Nix and the Sisters of St. Joseph encouraged the Millennium Hotel St. Louis to publicly sign the ECPAT-USA Code of Conduct for hotels in July 2011. The hotel has since trained its staff, met with law enforcement, and called the authorities several times when they saw suspicious behavior.
“This is a moral and ethical imperative for us,” said Dominic Smart, general manager of the Millennium Hotel St. Louis. “Many of our housekeeping staff are mothers, and they have great empathy for children. We simply don’t want this happening at our property.”
Although addressing the issue of human trafficking may seem like a daunting task, Smart said it was simple to put into action. He had help from ECPAT and from the local Healing Action Network and The Covering House, who trained staff to spot the red flags of child prostitution — such as a young girl who looks helpless, shamed, nervous, fearful or disoriented, is dressed inappropriately for her age and is accompanied by a significantly older man.
Meeting planners who adopt the Meeting Planner’s Code of Conduct agree to establish an internal social responsibility policy, implement an action plan with objectives and timeframes, and report annually.
“The bubble of people in our industry who are aware of child sex trafficking is growing every day,” said Molly Hackett. “Our goal is increase that awareness. We hope that one day soon, we’ll be able to provide our clients with a choice of hotels that are proactive on this issue.”
“Working with Nix and others in the conference and meeting management sector will open new doors for us,” said Michelle Guelbart, M.S.W., Private Sector Project Coordinator of ECPAT-USA. “This is a groundbreaking way to address the issue of child protection in tourism.”
For more information on the Meeting Planner’s Code of Conduct, contact Kimberly Ritter at (314) 645-1455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nix Conference & Meeting Management, based in St. Louis, has managed meetings, conferences and trade shows for associations, religious organizations, businesses and nonprofits since 1985. Nix has managed events on four continents and in 17 countries. For more information, call (314) 645-1455 or visit www.nixassoc.com.