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By Jim Shilander

Members of the new Interstate 5 Freedom Network gave local hotel operators a look at a dark part of the world Thursday, providing the first in a series of educational events that spotlighted human trafficking in Orange County and what hotel operators and employees could look for to spot the practice.

Speakers included officials and educators from the Department of Homeland Security and the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.

“There’s been a shift from the brothel to hotels,” Brenda Wells, who helped organize the event, said. “Hotel managers can be the eyes and ears. It’s where the people are.”

Camille Coronel, a training coordinator for the task force, said with the passage of Proposition 35 in 2012, which provided tougher sentences for human and sex trafficking, the issue has come more the forefront. Cornel said in her experience, most female prostitutes were actually trafficking victims, which includes women from other countries as well as domestic victims. Orange County, she said, is considered a prime location for the trafficking business because of its number of tourist attractions which brings so many to the area.

Kyla Smith, who works at the Dream Center in Los Angeles, an organization that hosts outreach programs for human trafficking victims, said she has seen women having to prostitute themselves at all sorts of hotels, from small local motels to high-end resorts. Hotel operators, she said, should look out for people coming in without luggage or who leave all sorts of items behind in the hotel. Many victims, she said, do not see themselves as such, despite a history of abuse, both physical and emotional.

Hotel operators asked what they could take to help potential victims while avoiding drawing the ire of gangs or others who might operate trafficking rings. Coronel said there are subtle ways of informing the task force and other law enforcement about what might be happening.

The group will be meeting again later this month.

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