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What Survivors Should Know About Hotel Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is a crime that involves forcing or coercing a person to engage in sex acts for the trafficker’s profit. . Hotels are often complicit in the abuse, and they may be held liable for their role in facilitating sex trafficking.

Survivor Advocate

Key Takeaways

  • Over the last few years, over 1,500 sex trafficking civil lawsuits have been filed against hotels & motels for their role in the harm that has happened to thousands of victims around the country.
  • Hotels employees often turn a blind eye to sex trafficking or the traffickers will often bribe them to stay quiet. There are many sex trafficking red flags employees can identify and things victims can do to signal they are being trafficked.
  • If you have previously experienced human or sex trafficking and it occurred consistently at a hotel or a motel, get in touch with Helping Survivors to understand your legal rights and options.

Why Are Hotels Being Sued for Enabling Sex Trafficking?

Sex trafficking is a crime that involves forcing or coercing a person to engage in sex acts for the trafficker’s profit. It’s a form of human trafficking—a type of modern-day slavery affecting millions of people around the world, including individuals right here in the United States. Anyone can be a victim of sex trafficking, but children and young women make up the majority of victims.

Hotels and motels are common venues for sex trafficking. Traffickers are drawn to these establishments because of their transient nature, making it easier to move victims from place to place without detection. Hotels are often complicit in the abuse, and they may be held liable for their role in facilitating sex trafficking. 

Hotels across the United States are currently facing a wave of lawsuits for their alleged role in enabling and profiting from sex trafficking. This issue is not new—there’s a long and troubling history of hotels knowing about sex trafficking activities happening on their premises and failing to take appropriate action.

In many cases, employees may be active participants in the trafficking activities. Traffickers often recruit hotel employees, paying them to turn a blind eye to the abuse. Sometimes, those already involved in trafficking rings seek out employment in hotels, creating an environment where such illegal activities can flourish unchecked.

Last Date Modified
May 15, 2024

Alleged Hotel Negligence in Sex Trafficking Lawsuits

Over 1,500 sex trafficking civil lawsuit claims have been investigated nationwide in just the past few years alone. The surge in legal action against hotels is generally based on the theory that these establishments are negligent by failing in the duty of care owed to guests and employees. Accusations against hotels include negligence in training staff to recognize signs of sex trafficking, failing to report evidence of such activities, failing to implement adequate security measures, and not taking reasonable steps to prevent sex trafficking on the premises.

According to the lawsuits, the hotels’ negligence violates the legal obligations imposed by state and federal law. For instance, the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 imposes civil liability on those who knowingly benefit financially from participation in sex trafficking. Tourism-heavy states like Florida also require training for hotel employees to identify and report signs of sex trafficking, which further reinforces the duty of care these businesses owe to others.

Despite the large number of lawsuits, the legal landscape for sex trafficking litigation against hotels is relatively new. There is little precedent to guide these cases — which is why it’s critical to have legal counsel with expertise in this area. Helping Survivors collaborates with leading law firms and non-governmental organizations to support victims of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment, including sex trafficking and can support you in taking the next best step to heal.

How Hotels & Motels Can Be Involved in Sex Trafficking

According to a Polaris Project survey, 75 percent of trafficking survivors came into contact with hotels at some point while being trafficked. The majority of sex trafficking—80 percent—occurred at hotels. Furthermore, traffickers used hotels and motels 69 percent of the time during travel. Many traffickers force victims to live in hotels full-time, with 20 percent housing victims in hotels.

Additionally, sex traffickers sometimes use hotels and motels as recruitment grounds. These traffickers particularly prey on vulnerable people who rely on hotels during times of housing instability.

Sex traffickers often use hotels for escort services, which use either an “in-call” or “out-call” model. In an in-call scenario, the trafficker books a single hotel room and confines the victim to that room for “buyers” to cycle in and out of. With an out-call model, the trafficker sends the victim to the “buyer’s” location, which is typically a hotel room. The out-call model resembles prostitution to onlookers, making it more challenging to identify as sex trafficking, whereas the in-call model makes identification more likely.

Indicators of Sex Trafficking in Hotels & Motels

Hotels and motels play a crucial role in the fight against sex trafficking because of the unique position of their employees. These workers are ideally situated to notice subtle indicators of illicit activity due to their proximity to guests and room access. Recognizing the red flags of sex trafficking in both traffickers and victims can lead to timely intervention by the authorities and save lives. Additionally, any visitor at a hotel can say something to staff if they see something amiss — and could potentially save a life.

Ways to Identify Sex Trafficking in Hotels & Motels

An individual involved in sex trafficking in hotels or motels may display any of the following indicators:

  • Requesting housekeeping services, such as additional towels or new linens, but not allowing staff to enter the room
  • Booking an extended stay but bringing few or no personal possessions
  • Reservation of a room on an hourly basis or for less than a full day
  • Reservations of multiple rooms for one person
  • Loitering and solicitation of male guests
  • Visible malnourishment, poor hygiene, fatigue, untreated illness or injuries, or strange behavior
  • Restricted movement or constant monitoring by others
  • Inappropriate dress for one’s age or lower quality of clothing than others in their group
  • Lack of possession or control over their identification or money
  • Excessive amounts of sex paraphernalia in the room
  • Begging for food or money from hotel staff or guests

What Hotels Have Been Accused of Enabling Sex Trafficking?

Between December 2007 and December 2017, the National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded 3,596 cases of human trafficking involving a hotel or motel. Virtually no hotel chains have been immune from allegations of sex trafficking occurring on their property.

In recent years, several major hotel chains have faced lawsuits and negative publicity for allegedly enabling sex trafficking within their establishments. They include the following:

  • Marriott
  • Best Western
  • Days Inn
  • Super 8
  • G6 Hospitality
  • Hilton
  • Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
  • Choice Hotels
  • Red Lion
  • Motel 6

Hotel Sex Trafficking Lawsuits That Made Headlines

Sex trafficking has occurred for thousands of years, but it’s lurked in the shadows for most of that time. Shame and fear kept victims silent, but the discourse around sex trafficking is changing. Conversations about this type of exploitation are happening more frequently, and laws have better addressed the issue.

Survivors now feel more empowered to stand up against their abusers, which has led to a recent increase in legal action against hotels for allegedly enabling sex trafficking on their premises. Here are just a few of the high-profile cases that have made headlines in recent years:

  • In 2019, four survivors sued Red Roof Inn for sex trafficking involving two hotels outside Atlanta, Georgia. Attorney Pat McDonough, who leads the sex trafficking division for law firm Andersen, Tate & Carr, represented the plaintiffs. The lawsuit alleged that hotel staff warned the traffickers when police were in the area in exchange for money and drugs. It also alleged that staff was aware of the pervasiveness of sex trafficking on its premises but did not report it.
  • Also in 2019, three survivors filed parallel sex trafficking lawsuits against three hotel chains—Hilton, Choice Hotels, and Wyndham—in Houston, Texas. Annie McAdams represented the survivors, who alleged that their traffickers benefited from the hotels’ refusal to adopt proper anti-trafficking policies. The lawsuits also stated that the hotels refused to train staff on the signs of sex trafficking and failed to establish an effective reporting system.
  • In 2022, a sex trafficking survivor sued five hotels in California, including Hilton, Choice Hotels, G6 Hospitality, and Marriott. According to the complaint, the abuse was open and obvious to staff, who were allegedly aware of the abuse but failed to stop it. Additionally, the complaint alleged that the plaintiff’s trafficker worked directly with a hotel manager, who allegedly helped the trafficker avoid police surveillance and gave discounts to the trafficker on hotel rooms in exchange for the plaintiff’s sexual favors.
  • In 2023, another hotel sex trafficking survivor sued a Super 8 by Wyndham in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, for its employees’ alleged complicity in her abuse. She claimed that the hotel’s owners were aware of the abuse happening on its premises but did not take action to stop it.

What You Can Do If You’ve Experienced Sex Trafficking?

If you are actively experiencing sex trafficking, help is available for crisis intervention and active victim support. For immediate assistance, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 888-373-7888, where advocates are available 24/7. You can also text the Hotline at 233733.

Depending on your circumstances, you may also benefit from calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. These organizations can inform you of local resources and options available to escape the situation as safely as possible.

Helping survivors is not designed to assist those actively experiencing sex trafficking and any individual currently experiencing harm should contact the above resources. But if you are in a safe space and thinking about your legal rights and options, we can help answer your questions.

Rights and Options for Survivors of Sex Trafficking

If you have escaped hotel sex trafficking and are now physically safe, you have legal rights and options. Not every option will be the fit for you or your experience. Helping Survivors can guide you to the right support for your specific situation. Some of the available options and resources include the following:

  • Document the harm: This step, though potentially triggering, is critical. Securely save any evidence documenting the harm, such as screenshots, call logs, and emails. Write down all memories related to the trafficking, including details about individuals and businesses involved. This process might take a while, and you may uncover new memories over time. Give yourself breaks when needed, and come back to it when you’re ready.
  • Seek medical attention: Prioritize both your physical and mental health by consulting health care professionals and mental health specialists.
  • Report to online platforms: If your traffickers used online platforms for recruitment, you may want to file reports with the platforms to help prevent further victimization.
  • Report to hotels: Consider reporting the incident to the hotel operator, either anonymously or directly. Providing detailed information—including names, phone numbers, or email addresses perpetrators have used—could prevent traffickers from using the facilities again and support civil or criminal legal action.
  • Report to law enforcement: While reporting to law enforcement is a personal choice and may not be the path every survivor chooses, it remains an option. Take some time to learn about the process of law enforcement pressing charges against someone so you can make an informed decision.
  • Speak to a lawyer: Consult with a personal injury lawyer specializing in sex trafficking cases. They can help you understand your rights and options, including filing a hotel sex trafficking lawsuit. Look for lawyers who offer free consultations and work on a contingency basis, where you only pay legal fees if they win your case. Be cautious of firms demanding hourly fees or those that seem indifferent to your well-being.

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