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Berrien County hotels join fight against human trafficking

WSBT 22

More than 30 hotels in Berrien County are joining the fight against human trafficking. They're taking part in a nationwide program.

Hotel owners are hoping to send a clear message to human traffickers-- they are not welcome in Berrien County.

The Southwestern Michigan Human Trafficking task force is the first group in the county to get an entire county involved in the project.

By downloading the free app ‘Traffickcam’ you can help.

These hotels are already doing their part by photographing their rooms with the app.

"We basically took Traffickcam the app and put it on steroids. We just took it from one hotel to the entire county,” said Cathy Knauf with the Southwestern Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

Traffickers often post pictures of their victims posing in hotel rooms for online ads. By using the app, the images are sent directly to the FBI's server.

It creates a database that investigators can go to find other images that were taken in the same location.

"It's helping out the FBI and law enforcement and if they're looking for a victim/survivor this will help them in their search and rescue, and the second one is to help tourism feel as safe as possible,” said Knauf.

Anne Vonk with the Hilton Garden Inn in Benton Harbor says human trafficking isn't a problem they've had to deal but it's a definite possibility.

"When you think about the problem and what happens its really abhorrent. Just knowing that we can be a part of the solution we didn't even give it a second thought,” said Vonk.

Not only are hotel managers ensuring that there's photographic evidence to stop criminals-- but also that staff have the training they need to identify the signs of human trafficking.

"We're going to take any necessary step possible so we can keep that out of our community and make this a family friendly hotel,” said Holiday Inn Express General Manager, Kyle Reilly.

The Traffickcam app is for everyone. It's something you can download and take pictures of your room while on vacation.

More than 2 million pictures from hotels across the country have been downloaded to the FBI's database.

The Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force says it plans to branch out to more hotels in other counties in the future.

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