Hotels have become known as a common location for human trafficking. Why? “Hotels and motels are a common venue for sex trafficking due to ease of access for buyers, ability to pay in cash and maintain secrecy through finances, and lack of facility maintenance or upkeep expenses.” (National Human Trafficking Hotline)
This has resulted in an increase in lawsuits against numerous well-known hotel companies. In the lawsuits, hotels are often alleged to have been involved with the trafficking that took place inside their walls or to have knowingly disregarded it despite warning signs.
EHL, a hospitality business university in Switzerland, offers additional reasons why hotels are a popular choice for traffickers. “Their revenue streams and operations are increasingly being automated. For example, automatic check-ins/check-outs, third party reservation systems, non-mandatory registration and identification, [and] guest privacy and anonymity all prevent hoteliers and staff members from knowing the real identity of their customers or what they are doing behind closed doors.”
While especially common for use in sex trafficking activities, labor trafficking also occurs at hotels. “Potential victims of labor trafficking can work as front-of-house staff, food service workers, and most frequently, in housekeeping.” (Polaris Project)
Hotels have a legal responsibility to maintain safe premises and take the proper precautions to keep guests safe, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
Common reasons why hotels face legal action when it comes to human trafficking:
Failure to intervene after noticing signs of trafficking
Allowing the crime to occur in exchange for financial gain
Participation from employees in the trafficking taking place
In the United States alone, numerous human trafficking lawsuits were filed against hotels in 2023, and some cases were resolved.
Red Roof Innsettled with four women that filed a sex trafficking lawsuit against the hotel chain (December 2023)
Four human trafficking survivors in Texas filedfederal lawsuits against Studio 6 and Motel 6 (July 2023)
40+ human trafficking lawsuitswere filed against hotel companies, including Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Choice Hotels International (April 2023)
Philadelphia hotel owner was required topay eight survivors $24 million after court ruling (February 2023)
For survivors, the pursuit of legal justice has a much greater purpose than financial compensation. Not only can it provide the opportunity for needed closure and new beginnings, but it also forces hotels at fault and their parent companies to make changes for the better. In doing so, others who may be in danger in the future will be better protected.
Lawsuits also offer a sense of empowerment to survivors. At O.U.R., we advocate for andsupport survivors as they work through the legal system. This can take many forms including prosecuting their traffickers and abusers, seeking restitution, and navigating other legal issues.
In light of the lawsuits and public backlash, many hotel companies have made changes with the goal of eliminating human trafficking. At the forefront of this reform is increased training for staff members, and new or revised processes to report concerns of trafficking. Both domestically and internationally, policy and training updates are decided by hotel companies as they see fit.
Included in their No Room for Traffickingcampaign, The American Hotel & Lodging Association has developed a five-step action plan for its members:
Training staff on what to look for and how to respond
Displaying human trafficking indicator signage
Establishing a companywide policy
Ongoing coordination with law enforcement
Sharing success stories and best practices
Hilton, an international hotel brand, has established Travel with Purpose Goals to achieve by 2030. “We have set ambitious goals aimed at mitigating modern slavery, forced labour, and human trafficking risks in our operations.” (Hilton Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement, 2022)
Awareness is essential to combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We applaud initiatives like these created to address this every increasing pandemic and educate people on the signs. With more than 49 million people currently subjected to modern-slavery worldwide, the issue is too large to ignore. Learn the factshere.
To combat trafficking outside of initiatives, hotels should provide proper training to every staff member on the signs of human trafficking and educate them on how to take action if it is suspected. A valuable resource is the Department of Homeland Security’sHuman Trafficking Response Guide for the Hospitality Industry. This 10-page document goes into detail on the signs of trafficking that hotel staff members can look for depending on their specific role.
There are additional steps each hotel company can take to ensure the safety of all guests:
Verify the identity of each guest who checks in
Monitor rooms with frequent visitors that are not staying at the hotel
Work with local law enforcement & advocate organizations to stay informed on current and potential dangers
With the recent lawsuits several well-known hotel companies around the world have faced, positive and needed changes are being made. This improvement in accountability, introspection, and reform is incredibly important in the fight to end human trafficking. However, more needs to be done.
We lead the fight against child sexual exploitation and human trafficking worldwide.
Our work spans the globe as we assist law enforcement in rescue efforts and help provide aftercare to all those affected. While we prioritize children, we work to empower the liberation of anyone suffering at the hands of those looking to sexually exploit. We offer vital resources to authorities around the world and work tirelessly to raise awareness and meet survivors on their healing journey. Our resolve never falters, and we will boldly persevere until those in need are safe.
Why are hotels facing an increase in human trafficking lawsuits?
Hotels are common venues for human trafficking due to factors such as ease of access for buyers, ability to pay in cash, and guest privacy. Lawsuits allege hotels' involvement or negligence despite warning signs.
How do hotels become legally involved in human trafficking cases?
Hotels have a legal responsibility to maintain safe premises per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Legal action may result from failure to intervene, allowing the crime for financial gain, or employee participation in trafficking.
Can you provide examples of high-profile human trafficking cases involving hotels?
Yes, some notable cases include Red Roof Inn settling a sex trafficking lawsuit, federal lawsuits against Studio 6 and Motel 6, and over 40 human trafficking lawsuits filed against hotel companies in 2023.
What impact do human trafficking lawsuits have on survivors, and how are hotels responding?
Lawsuits offer survivors closure and force hotels to make positive changes. Many hotels are implementing reforms, including increased staff training, policy establishment, and collaboration with law enforcement to combat human trafficking.