Human Trafficking: How Hotels and Hotel Personnel Can Be Held Criminally Liable
What Does The Law Say about Human Trafficking?
In 2000, Congress passed The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the most significant federal human trafficking statute ever passed to address the problem of sex trafficking. Since 2000, new studies and research increased education and awareness, and recommendations from experts, agencies, and organizations have all led to several amendments to the bill. Given all the proposals and recommendations that currently exist from the thousands of lawmakers and advocates who are currently working on this issue, there will likely be several more.
Currently, the TVPA defines “severe forms” of trafficking in persons to include “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.” Sex trafficking under section 1591 can be broken down into three elements: act, means, and purpose. The act element of sex trafficking includes, “recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, advertising, maintaining, patronizing or soliciting,” while the means element includes the use of force, threat of force, fraud, or coercion. Note however, that the use of force, threat of force, fraud, and coercion are not required for criminal prosecution if the victim is a minor. Finally, the federal statute defines the purpose element as one “to cause the person [the victim] to engage in a commercial sex act.” Initially, the law may appear as if only those who are directly involved can be prosecuted. The law, however, extends punishment much further and is not limited to just traffickers.
The TVPA states that “whoever knowingly . . . benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture which has engaged in an act [of sex trafficking] … in reckless disregard of the fact that means of force…fraud, or coercion will be used to cause the person to engage in a commercial sex act…shall be punished.“ Thus, the prosecution does not need to prove that a hotel employee personally used “force, fraud, or coercion” against a victim. It is sufficient that the employee harbored the victim by renting a room to the trafficker, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that force, threat of force, fraud, or coercion were being used to cause an adult victim to engage in commercial sex, or that a minor victim was caused to engage in commercial sex.
What If Hotels and Staff Claim They Did Not Know Human or Child Trafficking Was Happening?
In anticipation of hotels claiming they were not aware of sex trafficking occurring at their hotel, despite indicators that should have made them aware, the TVPA added the “reasonable opportunity to observe a minor victim” clause. In a prosecution in which the “defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the person so recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, maintained, patronized, or solicited, the Government need not prove that the defendant knew, or recklessly disregarded the fact, that the person had not attained the age of 18 years.” In other words, a hotel employee who had a reasonable opportunity to observe a minor victim of sex trafficking will be guilty of sex trafficking by only having harbored the victim by renting out the hotel room where the commercial sex act occurred.
Finally, hoteliers should be aware that a hotel as a corporation can be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees even if the hotelier or management had no knowledge that a criminal act was being conducted on the premises. A hotel can be held vicariously liable for the acts of its employees if the employees were acting as agents of the hotel. This means that the liability of a hotel employee acting for the hotel who engages in sex trafficking extends to the hotel itself.
- In 2000, Congress passed The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the most significant federal human trafficking statute ever passed to address the problem of sex trafficking.
- The TVPA states that hotel staff and employees can be held criminally liable, especially in the case of willfully disregarding sex trafficking of minors.
- Hotel owners should be aware that a hotel, as a corporation, can be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees even if the hotelier or management had no knowledge that a criminal act was being conducted on the premises.
Learn more about the Guardian Seal® Training.