ST. LOUIS, MO. (KTVI) - Nuns, hookers and babies all come together in tonight's story about sex trafficking. Chris Hayes explains how these three worlds converge in his ongoing expose on prostitution in St. Louis.
It happened through Kim Ritter, who coordinates travel and convention events for nuns. One day the nuns told her to pressure the places pimps use most, hotels.
Ritter explained, "I was able to go online, go to Backpage.com and identify these hotel rooms by the throws in the room, by the curtains, by whatever was outside of their window."
Almost every online sale of a human body shows a picture taken at a hotel or motel. Sometimes you can even see St. Louis landmarks in the background -- like the Ed Jones Dome and the old St. Louis Courthouse.
Ritter said, "If we could just get all of the hotels to stand together, we could beat this."
She brokered a groundbreaking pact with the Millennium Hotel, which courageously put fears of bad public relations behind `doing the right thing.` The hotel trained every employee to look for sex trafficking. Now both downtown St. Louis Hilton's are beginning training.
Ritter pressures other hotels with the backing of thousands of nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph. She added, "To let traffickers know we`re all watching for you. We won`t allow girls to be sold in our city."
Pimps continue using rental rooms to make thousands in one night. They sold Tiffany Piper in hotels. Piper later told her mom, Shannon Tanner who told us, "When she got there, it was a hotel with ten other women who were prostitutes and he expected her to stay with them and I guess she had to for some time."
To mother`s horror, she said Tiffany took her child. She said, "Every day we worry and wonder because we didn`t have any proof what she was doing. All we had was our feelings this was what`s going on, but we didn`t have any proof yet. We`re very worried about the baby."
When mom finally learned the truth, police told her that Tiffany was also selling other humans, two 17 year old high school girls, out of a St. Peters motel. Piper`s in jail while Mom and Grandmom now care for the child. Former prostitute Katie Rhoades now rescues sex slaves. She remembers hopping from hotel to hotel, seeing hookers with kids.
I asked, "What happens to those babies, do they get sold into that trade?
Rhoades responded, "It`s uhm, yeah, yeah, that`s something. (She tries to keep from breaking down, then adds) I do wonder what happened to those kids. A friend of mine, she didn`t go with me to California, but she had a daughter who was involved in this life and I would go back year after year and check on her and when I got out she would still be there and she had a daughter who was about 6 when I left. I think about them a lot. I think a lot about the kid and the life that the kid is leading."
Rhoades now works with Kim Ritter, training hotel and motel employees how to spot sex trafficking. Rhoades remembers how she could`ve been rescued, when hotel staff kicked her out of a room her pimp failed to pay for. Rhoades said, "Even if they would`ve said `what`s going on?` I probably would have spilled it because I was so angry."
You can ask your next hotel if they`re trained. The easiest way? Ask if they`ve signed the `ECPAT` code of conduct, which stands for `End Child Pornography and Trafficking.'