By some estimates, thousands of people are forced into prostitution in Minnesota each day. Now, Ramsey County prosecutors and the lodging industry are teaming up to curb the growing problem.
According to prosecutors, most sex trafficking starts with online classified ads on sites like Backpage.com, but it ends in local hotel rooms. That's why they hope a new video they created will help train hospitality employees to spot the warning signs.
"I think it's a safety and security issue, which is always a concern for us," said Scott Henning, general manager of the Radisson in Roseville.
Hundreds of guests book rooms at the hotels and motels in Roseville each day, but some of those guests aren't in town for business or a trip to the nearby shopping mall.
"To have that kind of trafficking in our hotel rooms is alarming," Henning admitted. "Something against the law -- and we need to be aware of it."
That's the goal of Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, whose office made a video to help hotel and motel employees learn to recognize the signs that someone is being bought and sold for sex.
The 20-minute DVD includes stories from sex-trafficking survivors and the case of Samuel Cozart, who is now serving prison time for pimping a 17-year-old out of a Roseville hotel. The video also highlights the red flags, such as paying in cash, having no luggage and refusing housekeeping or room service for days on end.
"I think the tools we've been given by Ramsey County will not only help hotels our size, but also smaller hotels who don't have the infrastructure to create such DVDs," Henning said.
Melanie Snyder, who started a campaign to shut down the Red Roof Inn in Woodbury following a hostage standoff there last fall, said she thinks the DVD is "a great start to help out hotels and motels in the area."
Prior to the standoff, the Red Roof Inn also had hundreds of other police calls, including calls for teen prostitution.
According to Snyder, the owners of the inn now require customers to have a credit card instead of allowing them to pay with cash, but she said she believes it'll take more than a video to make a dent in the sex trafficking trade in Minnesota.
"I think it involves everyone," she said. "Police, City Council and residents -- as well as people who manage the hotel; it's a group effort.
The Ramsey County Attorney's Office is sending 500 DVDs to hotels and motels across the state in the next couple of weeks. To watch the video, click here: http://vimeo.com/77710308