The battle against sex trafficking has just seen a groundbreaking development.
According to Reuters, a landmark lawsuit was filed accusing a dozen major hotel chains of profiting from sex trafficking. Hotels have long been accused of knowingly facilitating the sexual exploitation of women and children, but none have ever been held accountable for it—until now.
The suit was filed on Monday on behalf of 13 women who claimed they were sold for sex in hotel rooms. It consolidates 13 separate actions that had been filed in Ohio, Massachusetts, Georgia, Texas, and New York.
Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., Red Roof Inn, Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts Inc., and others stand accused of knowing and ignoring warning signs that women and children were sold as sex slaves on their premises.
Hilton issued a statement in which its spokesperson said it “condemns all forms of human trafficking, including for sexual exploitation” and that it expected its business partners to share that value.
Other hotel groups did not respond to requests for comment.
The milestone case was filed by the New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg on behalf of 13 women, many of whom were minors when they said the trafficking occurred.
The hotels “derived profit” and “benefited financially” by “providing a marketplace for sex trafficking,” the case said, citing “industry-wide failures.”
“Such corporate malfeasance has led to a burgeoning of sex trafficking occurring in … hotels that has reached the level of a nationwide epidemic,” it said.
“This is not one bad apple that need to be dealt with,” said Luis CdeBaca, former U.S. anti-trafficking ambassador-at-large.
“The entire barrel has a problem … For years the hospitality industry has known that sex trafficking and especially child sex trafficking has occurred on their properties and yet it continues to happen.”
One of the plaintiffs recalled being held captive at age 26 at various locations of Wyndham Hotels for six weeks in 2012. During that time, her nose was broken twice, her lip was permanently scarred, and the wounds from her repeated beatings became infected.
“I just wish that people realize how much it really is here in the U.S.,” she told the Reuters. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a shady hotel or a nice hotel, it’s going on in all of them.”
Trafficking Matters offers a heartbreaking story of just how much hotel workers aid and abet traffickers and abusers:
Savannah’s trafficker often asked the hotel staff for favors, like letting the customers into the room where he held Savannah. One night, a hotel employee relayed a message to Savannah from her trafficker telling her to walk home. At 12 years old, Savannah began walking home “barefoot, bloody, beaten and alone,” yet no one at the hotel helped her. This horrific example is one of many incidents of hotels turning a blind eye to exploitation occurring on their premises.
For their part, several hotel chains have recently launched initiatives to train staff to identify potential victims and to raise awareness of the crime among guests.
“These changes have arrived far too late,” said the court documents, however. “Profit motives, not adherence to the law, continues to drive their decision making.”
Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), hotels can be held liable in civil and criminal cases for allowing sex trafficking to occur on their property. Under the law, not only can the federal government or a trafficking survivor to bring a case against their abuser, but also against any entity who knew or should have known that exploitation was taking place on its property.
If we are to eradicate the scourge of human trafficking, there must be no quarter for those who facilitate it and profit off of it.
An estimated 400,000 women and children are living in modern slavery right now, all over the world. We must do everything we possibly can to bring freedom and justice to each and every one of them.
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