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Enough is Enough: Hotels and Motels Profiting from Sex Trafficking Must Stop Here

Photo Credit: (last visited Feb. 19, 2020).

By: Landon Whatley
Junior Associate Editor, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

The United States enacted the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act of 2000 (“TPVA”) as its first major move to combat human trafficking both domestically and worldwide.[1]  The TPVA defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act[,]” which is defined as “any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.”[2]  Since 2000, the U.S. has increased its legislation to protect sex trafficking victims and to prosecute traffickers and others involved, including providing a private right of action for sex trafficking victims against the traffickers and those who knowingly financially benefited or received any value from the trafficking.[3] 

An estimated 73.55% of cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline were for sex trafficking centralized at hotels and motels, and an estimated 80% of sex trafficking-based arrests were made in or around hotels and motels.[4]  Sex traffickers target hotels and motels for facilities for commercial sex because of their anonymous, seclusive, and transient nature.  These recent statistics surrounding the vulnerability of victims at hotels and motels, increase in awareness by society, push for prosecution by the government, the desire for justice by the attorneys, and the want to hold hotels and motels accountable for the pain and suffering by the victims has caused a significant increase in civil suits against hotels and motels across the country.

Lawyers have begun investigating claims and filing lawsuits against many nationally known hotels, alleging that these hotels and motels are involved in sex trafficking because it is occurring on their properties.  These national known hotels and motels include “Hilton, Wyndham, Days Inn, Super 8, Best Western, Red Lion, Marriot, Choice Hotels, Extended Stay America, [and] Motel 6.”[5]  These hotels and motels cannot escape liability by claiming that they did not know they were financially benefiting on account of the sex trafficking, 18 U.S.C § 1595 only requires that these hotels and motels had knowledge of financial benefits.  Courts have found that the mere rental of a room establishes a sufficient connection with the sex trafficking venture and trafficker to meet the knowingly benefited requirement.[6] 

In H.H. v. G6 Hospitality, LLC, a plaintiff who was a victim of sex trafficking sued the parent companies of the nationally renowned hospitality businesses Motel 6 and Super 8 to hold them liable for her exploitation and forced commercial sex that took place in these motels.[7]  The court held that allegations that the plaintiff “was routinely . . .  escorted by her trafficker to the front desk” to pay for the room for the commercial sex in cash, “was discovered by hotel cleaning staff [of Motel 6] . . . tied to the . . . bed” and ignored her pleas for help, was discovered by a Super 8 hotel staff member  “chained up in the bathroom of the hotel room” and again despite her pleas for help, another staff member at yet another hotel ignored her.[8]  On top of these allegations, the plaintiff also alleged that the hotel blatantly ignored the ten to fifteen “johns” that would come and go from the single hotel room where the plaintiff was being held on a daily basis.[9]  The court held these allegations were sufficient to claim that the hotels knew or at least should have known of the sex trafficking.[10] 

In an unfortunate but similar instance, in Ricchio v. McLean, the First Circuit held that the complaint adequately alleged that the owner of a local motel blatantly conspired with the trafficker in a commercial sex venture.[11]  The owner ignored the victim’s cry for help, physical deterioration, physical abuse and restraint, and attempted escapes, all while the owner harbored the trafficker and knowingly benefitedfor the commercial sex services that were taking place in the hotel.[12] 

In response to the rise in sex trafficking in hotels and motels, the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) launched the “Blue Campaign” in effort to combat sex trafficking and educate the community in recognizing victims and traffickers.[13]  DHS also set out to assist staff at hotels and motels in identifying these commercial sex ventures.[14]  The circumstances highlighted in both H.H. v. G6 Hospitality, LLC,[15] and Ricchio v. McLean, are just the circumstances the Blue Campaign works to both warn and educate hotel and motel employees on.[16] 

The Blue Campaign gives a list of general indicators of sex trafficking.[17]  This list highlights that hotel and motel staff should be aware of individuals “who show signs of fear, anxiety . . . nervousness . . . abuse, . . . confinement, . . . malnourishment, poor hygiene, sleep deprivation, . . . and injuries.”[18] It also directs employees to look for “[i]ndividuals who are constantly monitored, avoid eye contact and interaction with others[, i]ndividuals who show no control over or possession of money or ID[, and] who dress inappropriately” whether that be promiscuity or quality.[19]  The indicators also include watching for “[i]ndividuals who have few or no personal belongings” or a group of girls traveling with one older male or a group with identical tattoos.[20]  The campaign assists hotel and motel employees even further and gives a list of indicators that they should be conscious of in regards to sex trafficking indicators specifically at the hotels and motels.[21]  These indicators can be a “Do Not Disturb” sign in constant use, multiple room reservations in one name, large cash payments, constant flow of men in and out of a room, excessive amounts of sex paraphernalia found by cleaning staff, refusal of housekeeping, bodily smells, multiple forms of identification found, lack of personal items, accompanied minors in and out late on school nights, pornography purchased on hotel computers and TVs, and individuals never seen leaving the room.[22]  

While a recent action that moved to centralize twenty-one separate actions filed in Ohio, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Georgia, Texas, and New York was denied due to difference in ventures, hotels, states, times, witness, and indicia, the individual cases will be heard.[23]  And the potential Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL”) case received significant attention.  It posed the question to a big unknown: What would happen to these well-known hotel franchises like Best Western, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriot, Wyndham, or even Choice Hotels if the MDL did survive?  Or what about the alleged 1,500 additional actions that now could be individually brought forth?[24]  That is 1,500 potential sex trafficking victims across the country that are ready to fight back and hold the hotels and motels responsible for their role in the pain.

Even in this recent denial of the centralization of these sex trafficking civil suits, the court still acknowledged the severity of the allegations and expressed its sympathy for the victims.[25]  It is not hard to see the blatant and central role the hospitality industry plays in sex trafficking.  For decades, hotels and motels have profited by turning a blind eye when sex trafficking has been happening literally right under their roof.  These lawsuits are laying the groundwork to find justice for victims and let these hotels and motels know that it is time to step up.  It is time to hold these hotels and motels accountable.  It is time to hold these hotels and motels liable.  It is time that they pay their part for the role they played.  Enough is enough.  

[1] Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-386, 114 Stat. 1466 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 8, 18, and 22 U.S.C.).

[2] Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-386, 114 Stat. 1470 (current version at 22 U.S.C.A. 7102(4), (12) (West 2019)).

[3] See Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, Pub. L. No. 108-193, 117 Stat. 2878 (current version at 18 U.S.C.A. § 1595 (West 2019)) (creating a cause of action for victims of sex trafficking).

[4] National Hotline Cases Occurring in Hotels and Motels, Nat’l Hum. Trafficking Hotline, (last visited Feb. 18, 2020); Lawsuits Filed against Hotels for Ignoring Sex Trafficking, Trafficking Ctr., (last visited Feb. 18, 2020).

[5] Id.

[6] See, e.g., M.A. v. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc., No. 2:19-CV-849, 2019 WL 4929297, at *3 (S.D. Ohio Oct. 7, 2019); H.H. v. G6 Hospitality, LLC, No. 2:19-CV-755, 2019 WL 6682152, at *3 (S.D. Ohio Dec. 6, 2019).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. (John is a slang term used to describe a prostitute’s client).

[10] H.H., 2019 WL 6682152, at *3.

[11] Ricchio v. McLean, 853 F.3d 553, 556 (1st Cir. 2017).

[12] Id.

[13] Hospitality Toolkit, Blue Campaign, (last visited Feb. 18, 2020) [hereinafter “Hospitality Toolkit”].

[14] Id.

[15] See generally H.H., 2019 WL 6682152, at *3.

[16] Hospitality Toolkit, supra note 13.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] In re Hotel industry Sex Trafficking Litigation, MDL No. 2928, 2020 WL 581882, at *1-3 (J.P.M.L. Feb. 5, 2020).

[24] Id. at *3.

[25] Id.

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