Human Trafficking: Child Trafficking & Hotel Liability Across The Country


A Tough But Changing Landscape for modern slavery:

One of the more perverse consequences of human trafficking is that, because of the tremendous fear and psychological abuse endured by victims, many survivors remain loyal to their traffickers even after they are rescued. Often survivors do not see themselves as victims who have been wronged; rather, they believe they are somehow deserving of the damage they endured. Consequently, traffickers and those complicit in the trafficking have seldom been held responsible by survivors or by a legal system that expects those wronged to advocate for themselves.

Fortunately, that status quo is finally changing. As more and more medical and mental health resources have become available to survivors, and as the chances of recovery have increased, more survivors have come forward to hold accountable those responsible for their harm. Federal and state laws (including laws in California, Oregon, and Washington, as surveyed above) have been amended to extend both criminal and civil statutes of limitations to allow for recovery even before sex trafficking victims begin to bring causes of action. These changes in victim recovery laws have led to the filing of numerous suits against businesses and hotels across the country. Many more will undoubtedly follow. Some of these cases clearly illustrate the newfound consequences of inaction for hotel owners and operators.

New Human Trafficking Cases From Around the Country:

In Alabama, for example, a sex trafficking survivor who was 17 when she was victimized at a hotel is suing the hotel for failing to detect the many indicators that sex trafficking was occurring on their premises. The complaint emphasizes that “the vast majority of sex trafficking occurs in hotels and motels . . . and as a result, hotels and motels should be the first line of defense against illegal prostitution and sex trafficking of children,” Instead, the complaint continues, “hotels and motels account for over ninety percent of commercial exploitation of children.”  The complaint emphasizes that the hotel owner is being sued because he failed to act on “red flags” that should have alerted hotel employees that sex trafficking was occurring. These red flags included “payment by cash-only, older men or women with a younger woman/child or with a female who appears unrelated, the reservation of two rooms close to each other, a lack of luggage, refusal of cleaning services, regular requests for towels, and numerous men coming and going from the rooms or congregating at the door.” The defendant “repeatedly failed to make reasonable efforts to stop these crimes,” the complaint concludes. Vulnerable people are taken advantage of, “and the hotel either knew or should have known… but rather than acting on it, they financially benefited from it.”

In another high-profile case in Pennsylvania, a hotel is being sued by a sex trafficking victim who filed the action under an existing statute that was amended in 2014 to allow for civil penalties against those alleged to be in violation of human trafficking statutes. The suit alleges the hotel profited by renting the rooms used for sex trafficking, and further alleges the hotel “knew or had constructive knowledge” that the victim was “being sexually exploited” at their hotel, failed to intervene or contact police, and continued to profit. The complaint alleges that the victim, then 14, was dressed in sexually explicit clothing and was visibly treated in an aggressive manner by her traffickers. Men stood in the hallways outside of the room where the teen was engaged in sex acts and the room “contained used condoms.” The complaint claims the hotel is liable because the hotel knew, or should have known, that the minor victim was being used for commercial sex acts. The attorneys say this lawsuit is the first among many to come that will hold hotel owners “accountable when they knowingly allow victimization of the most vulnerable in our society.”

Most concerning for hotel owners is the recent case in which a club in Oregon had to pay a $1.25 million settlement to a girl who was 13 when she was forced by a club manager to perform commercial sex acts for customers at the club. The club owners denied knowing what happened because these activities were hidden from them. Nevertheless, the mounting cost of litigation grew so astronomically that the club’s insurers persuaded the club owners to settle. “Litigating this matter has been an incredibly costly proposition,” the defendants’ attorney warned.

This example shows that no legal judgment is required to impose a tremendous cost on a defendant. Under these new laws, any occurrence of sex trafficking in hotels, regardless of whether a hotel owner knew, now puts hotel owners at tremendous financial risk. In other instances, the mere allegation that sex trafficking is occurring at a hotel has caused franchisors to strip franchisees of franchise rights in order to protect themselves from liability and brand tarnishment. Thus, it is now in the financial interest of every hotel owner to prevent any form of human trafficking from occurring in their hotel.

The Takeaways:

  • The legal landscape for hotels and their employees is changing and more and more legal liability is being created for hotels in certain states.
  • Legal fees and costs of defending cases can have devastating financial effects regardless of whether the entity being sued is actually found guilty of aiding sex traffickers or not.

Learn more about the Guardian Seal® Training.