Venues for Violence: When Hotels Contribute to the Human Trafficking Epidemic

human trafficking

The National Human Trafficking Hotline has named hotels and motels as one of the commonly reported locations for human trafficking. The hospitality industry has for a long time known their properties to be breeding grounds for the exploitation of children and women, but trafficking still occurs in hotels. Consequently, a string of lawsuits has been filed against hotel companies.

The Hotel Industry and Human Trafficking

The Global Slavery Index reports that about 400,000 people in the United States are trapped in different forms of human trafficking, such as forced labor and sex trafficking. Human trafficking victims are usually U.S. citizens. Immigrants, too, are victimized. According to a 2018 Polaris report, immigrant survivors who held temporary visas made up a significant portion of the human trafficking cases discovered through the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Of the people trafficked in the United States, many go through hotels. According to a Polaris survey, 75% of trafficking survivors reported they came into contact with a hotel at some stage of their trafficking situation.

Traffickers take advantage of the anonymity and safety that hotels, especially hotel chain franchises, offer to check-in and out, accommodate clients, and exploit victims.

Ignoring the Signs

Hotel and motel employees are usually in the best position to spot the signs of trafficking. Unfortunately, they tend to overlook easily observed signs, such as:

  • Injuries
  • Individuals lacking the freedom to move or being constantly monitored
  • Refusing housekeeping services
  • Excessive sex paraphernalia
  • Individuals showing signs of fatigue, malnourishment, poor hygiene, or other unusual behavior

There have been several cases of victims being purposely ignored by hotel staff despite screaming, pleading for help, or having physical signs of torture. In one lawsuit, the victim alleges that the trafficker paid the hotel staff to ignore the trafficking incidents, and she went on to sustain injuries.

Hotel Liability for Human Trafficking

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is a federal law that allows survivors to bring lawsuits against any third party that benefited financially from their victimization and should have known or actually knew about the trafficking enterprise.

Hotels benefit from sex trafficking by their revenues increasing because of the visitors that rent their rooms for commercial sex. Additionally, hotel owners and employees usually observe several signs that they should have known were indicating trafficking.

Therefore, survivors can hold hotels liable under TVPA. Hotels can also be held civilly liable under state human-trafficking statutes and tort law.

Victims Increasingly Suing Hotels

Several lawsuits have been filed across the country, mostly in the last few years, accusing well-known hotel chains of ignoring trafficking happening at their properties. In a case that consolidated 13 existing cases, some of the hotel chains named are Hilton, Intercontinental, Wyndham, and Best Western. Many of the 13 victims in the case were minors when they were used for commercial sex in hotel rooms.

In the lawsuits that have been filed, victims are seeking monetary damages as well as agreements that will force hotel companies and franchises to implement measures to prevent human trafficking. These recent filings could represent a small fraction of the human trafficking lawsuits that could be brought against hotels in the near future.

Hotel liability can help decrease human trafficking. When a hotel is liable to survivors for allowing trafficking to occur on its property, it is likely to adopt more strict policies and procedures for recognizing and combating human trafficking. With training and implementation of reasonable security measures, hotel companies and their staff could prevent the trafficking of people on their properties.