Recently, I co-sponsored two bills in City Council with my friend and colleague, Blondell Reynolds-Brown, which would ban hotels and motels in Philadelphia from renting rooms by the hour.
The thought of one-hour motel room liaisons may conjure up risqué thoughts and illicit a snicker, but I assure you this is no laughing matter.
The bills are designed to combat the under-the-radar, but growing problem of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that exists everywhere in the world, including right here in my home of Northeast Philadelphia.
Sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies and other forms of coercion to force people — usually young women — into commercial sex acts against their will. It’s past time we shined a bright light on this shadowy criminal enterprise.
The data on human sex trafficking are sobering. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), approximately 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the U.S. every year and the average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim in this country is just 13–14 years old.
You also may be shocked to know that, according to the DOJ, Philadelphia is ranked among the top 20 sex trafficking cities in the country.
Sex traffickers rely heavily on hotels and motels to sustain their operations, thus my impetus to make one-hour room rentals illegal in Philadelphia. Human sex trafficking operations that are uncovered in motels or hotels in the city can have serious consequences for the owners of the establishments, as well, such as damage to the businesses’ reputations and lost profits.
The first of the two bills I co-sponsored would add requirements that motels and hotels train their employees in identifying human trafficking activities and recognizing its victims. Employees would be required to view a training video developed or approved by the Police Department, in collaboration with other city departments.
Motels and hotels would be required to provide certification to the Police Department that its employees were trained in order to receive annual renewals of their Housing Inspection Licenses.
The second bill would add provisions that motels and hotels be required to maintain a room registry of all patrons and would be prohibited from renting any rooms at an hourly rate. The daily rate would have to be charged for all rooms.
Currently, wherever human trafficking operations are uncovered, efforts are first and rightly focused on police intervention and criminal prosecution. We as a society must also provide support for services that assist the victims in their recovery.
But what’s needed most is prevention — limiting access to the places where trafficking occurs and training motel and hotel personnel to identify sex trafficking, recognize the victims, and alert law enforcement. These two inter-linked bills are intervention measures that will help to bring an end to this insidious form of human slavery in Philadelphia. ••
Ed Neilson is an at-large Philadelphia city councilman.