Catholic sisters among backers of the program
By Dan Russo
DUBUQUE — About 200 employees at the Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark in Dubuque were the first hospitality industry professionals in the area to complete a training program on human trafficking prevention sponsored by local and statewide anti-trafficking organizations.
“I thought this was a big city problem,” said Grand Harbor General Manager Steve Geisz. “Absolutely not.”
Surrounded by Catholic sisters from Dubuque’s various religious congregations, local law enforcement, resort employees and other community members, Geisz accepted a certificate of completion Jan. 11 at a conference room in the hotel, on the day recognized as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
In eastern Iowa during any given month, 397 unique persons are advertised online for commercial sex and 70-plus persons per month are at high risk of being sex trafficked, according to data from Creighton University, based in Omaha.
“Data shows that between 70-75 percent of sex trafficking occurs in hotels and motels around the nation,” said Sister Mira Mosle, BVM, co-leader of the hotel and motel project of the Tri-State Coalition Against Human Trafficking. “Iowa is no exception. The scope of human trafficking is immense. It’s a 150 billon dollar criminal industry that affects more than 40 million people globally. It’s among the top three crimes in the world along with the drug trade and illegal weapons.”
Since hotel staff are on the frontlines in the battle against what many have called modern day slavery, Grand Harbor Hotel agreed to be the “pilot” in the Dubuque area for the program. The training took place between December and January. Geisz said the business has an “obligation … to protect our guests, but also to protect our employees.”
“Traffickers will also traffic hotel employees,” he said. “They’re very vulnerable, so this put our staff at a high alertness, and we’re getting questions.”
The training program was developed by retired law enforcement officials from state agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation who have dealt with human trafficking cases. The training sessions were first held for Grand Harbor’s managers and were then held for other employees. Volunteers from the Tri-State Coalition, Set Free Dubuque, another local anti-trafficking group, and the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking & Slavery taught the material.
Suzie Wright, executive director of Set Free and a board member of the state-wide network, presented the certificate to Geisz.
“Conversations on vulnerability have inspired dialogue about overall safety for all aspects of the hotel,” said Wright.
Although Grand Harbor is the first business to go through the training in the vicinity of Dubuque, about 100 hotels and motels in Iowa have been trained to date, including facilities in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo and other cities.
Catholic women religious in Dubuque have contributed much to the fight against trafficking, founding the Tri-State Coalition in Dubuque about five years ago.
“Because human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal activity in the world, the coalition does its small part by focusing on education and by raising awareness of this activity,” said Sister Mary Lechtenberg, OSF, a Franciscan sister who co-chairs the hotel and motel project along with Sister Mira.
Aside from the effort by private businesses, religious organizations and charities, elected officials of both major parties at the local, state and federal levels have also been engaged in combating the crime of labor and sex trafficking. Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol and Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart support the training program. Rep. Isenhart took questions from the press after the Jan. 11 certificate presentation about efforts at the state level. Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is also among those backing the state-wide anti-trafficking training campaign by the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking & Slavery. At the federal level, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act was signed into law Jan. 8. The legislation allows $430 million in federal funds for trafficking prevention and education, victim protection and stronger government prosecution of traffickers through 2022 (See below).
The organizers of the training program at the local level are aiming to reach out to all hotels and motels in the Dubuque area, hoping to create a “trafficking-free zone.”
Dubuque Police Chief Mark Dalsing made remarks at the recent event, stating that law enforcement needs the public’s help in combating trafficking. He explained that since it’s a crime that often occurs in secret, it’s harder to detect. He was optimistic about the hotel and motel staff training that occurred at the Grand Harbor Resort.
“It’s a good start,” he said.
Sister Mira Mosle, BVM, (left) holds up the volunteer training manual used to teach the anti-trafficking course for hotel and motel employees. Suzie Wright, a board member of the Network Against Human Trafficking, speaks at the podium during a presentation and press conference Jan. 11 at the Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark in Dubuque. (Photos by Dan Russo/The Witness)