Randolph County tourism group tackles human trafficking

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RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. — Randolph County tourism employees are learning how to spot human trafficking.

Employees with The Heart of North Carolina Visitors Bureau and the I-73/I-74 Visitor Centers recently completed training to identify the warning signs.

The training was made available through a partnership between The Randolph County Tourism Development Authority, which operates the bureau and centers, and the NC Restaurant & Lodging Association.

“A lot of the places where people are labor and sex trafficked, where they’re held or kept, are unfortunately in places like the visitor centers that are on the highways, in restaurants and in hotels,” said Tammy O’Kelley, the Randolph County Tourism Development Authority CEO. “So it’s really important for us to be trained and be aware.”

O’Kelley says the training came after an employee became concerned about children who seemed more than unusually reserved.

That employee called a non-emergency line for Randolph County Emergency Services.

The situation prompted a one-day training session for all 16 employees.

The curriculum was developed by Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST).

Jay Flowers, a retired member of law enforcement, is one of the employees who went through the training.

“The material and the literature that was handed out was really good, eye-opening, what to be alert for,” Flowers said.

O’Kelley appreciated that the training also covered laws that would protect staff in the event of reporting a situation that turns out not to be a crime.

She wants staff to feel confident speaking up.

“We’re not going to be hospitable to traffickers. We’re going to be inhospitable,” O’Kelley said. “We’re going to report you and the goal is to rescue people from being held hostage and being trafficked.”

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