Human trafficking happens in Yampa Valley
Nonprofit group offers response training for local employees
Some Routt County residents may be surprised that the local, rural area is not immune to cases of human trafficking.
Local law enforcement and human service nonprofits have documented and worked with individuals for both sex and labor trafficking cases in the Yampa Valley.
“Just because you are not seeing or recognizing it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen locally,” said Justin Keys, a tavern owner in Steamboat Springs and board member of the nonprofit Better Tomorrow, which includes Advocates of Routt County.
Advocates of Routt County is adding and boosting efforts to help fight human trafficking in the Yampa Valley. Advocates kicks off this month Good Night’s Sleep, a free training program designed to help motel and hotel employees, housing managers and community members learn how to spot human trafficking and support the victims.
Advocates Social Change Program Manager Graham Hackett said the nonprofit will provide the free, one-hour training for lodging businesses or any entity wanting to learn more, ideally with in-person training within Routt County or through an interactive webinar. The program is also available online for businesses and groups in Grand and Moffat counties.
A companion harm-prevention program called Good Night Out, which started before the COVID-19 pandemic and is now ramping back up, works to empower restaurant, bar and nightclub employees to recognize problem behaviors related to sexual misconduct or human trafficking and how to safely intervene if needed.
“The Good Night Out program works to prevent sexual misconduct and violence originating in bars and restaurants, allowing customers to have a good and safe night out,” Hackett explained. “Whether a person is voluntarily intoxicated or someone drugged their drink, service employees at bars and restaurants are the first line of defense.”
The training provides effective prevention measures to integrate into procedures, policies and physical environments to foster safe atmospheres and prevent incidents before they occur.
Tactics include providing a safe and sanitary place to set drinks in all restroom stalls and designating a “safe zone” where a person at risk can be separated from the public. Employees are trained how to respond to incidents with simple, actionable plans to help someone in trouble.
Some local restaurant and bar owners have already incorporated Good Night Out into their employee training programs.
As the owner of The Barley Tap and Tavern in downtown Steamboat, Keys said he added Good Night Out as part of the paid, onboarding training for all his employees. He said staff members have appreciated the training and have had several occasions to utilize that knowledge.
His staff now feels empowered to handle situations his patrons may be feeling unsafe or notice red flags they may not have caught previously, Keys said.
“The biggest barrier is not knowing what you can or cannot do or what you are empowered to do in a situation,” said Keys, who helped develop the local training program that includes a handbook and videos.
“Problem behaviors happen in bars and restaurants all the time that can escalate into harassment, abuse or assaults, but there just wasn’t any training on how to respond rather than just security throwing someone out,” Hackett explained. “We do know that drug-facilitated sexual assault, which is an issue at resort towns everywhere, does occur at a high rate locally. Alcohol is the most common drug in a drug-facilitated sexual assault.”
Hackett said human trafficking can be challenging to recognize without training, something that Advocates staff have been learning about the past few years.
“Within the last year, there has been a concentrated effort to identify sex trafficking. It became apparent that some of the domestic violence cases actually fell under the heading of human trafficking,” said Hackett, referring to a few local cases within the past year.
Hackett hopes many owners and managers of hospitality businesses will take advantage of the free program and keep staff on the clock to participate in the trainings. Interested groups can visit AdvocatesRC.org or contact Hackett via email@example.com.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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