USA: Lawsuit filed against major hotels for aiding human trafficking on premises, incl. company comments

Satty Singh

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21 February 2020

USA: Plaintiff settles lawsuit against motel where she was allegedly sex trafficked

Author: Todd Bookman, NPR

"Human Trafficking Survivor Settles Lawsuit Against Motel Where She Was Held Captive," 20 Feb 2020

In the summer of 2011, Lisa Ricchio received a call from a man she knew. He said he was in Massachusetts, in pain from a recent surgery, and needed help...

At least twice while she was held captive, Ricchio claims motel employees saw her in distress but failed to intervene. Ricchio ultimately escaped, and her abuser was arrested and sentenced to prison...

Under a federal law called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA, she sued the motel, alleging that the owners financially benefited from the crime...

Legal experts and anti-trafficking groups say her 2015 case was the first filed against a hotel or motel for its role in a trafficking crime.

"It is not that any hotel is liable just because trafficking occurred on their premises," explains Cindy Vreeland, a partner at the firm WilmerHale, which handled Ricchio's case pro bono. "The question is whether the company that's been sued knew or should have known about the trafficking."...

According to the Human Trafficking Institute, there were at least 25 new cases filed nationwide against hotels and motels last year under the TVPA.

Some of the named defendants include major chains such as Hilton, Marriott and Red Roof Inn....

Pennock has filed an estimated two dozen cases against hotels on behalf of victims in an effort to stop what he considers an epidemic of forced prostitution...

For its part, the hotel industry says it's actively working to stop forced prostitution in its rooms and takes the issue seriously.

"Every major U.S. hotel brand along with thousands of independent hotels have already begun training their employees," writes Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, in a statement.

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2 January 2020

USA: National hotel chains Hilton, Wyndham, and Choice named in Texas lawsuit for promoting sex trafficking

Author: Gabrielle Banks, The Houston Chronicle

"Three national hotel chains in Houston sued for promoting sex trafficking" 31 Dec 2019

Three sex trafficking victims this month sued three major hotel chains in parallel lawsuits by advocates who say the companies exercised gross negligence about on-site prostitution at Houston branches despite corporate policies that promote social responsibility...

“Traffickers have long capitalized on the hotel industry’s refusal to adopt company-wide anti-trafficking policies, refusal to train staff on what to look for and how to respond, and failure to establish a safe and secure reporting mechanism, and they have exploited the seclusion and privacy of hotel rooms,” the lawsuits said...

“The parent companies in state court have thrown up their hands and said we’re not responsible for anything that happens at these hotel locations,” said McAdams, whose firm is partnering with others on the cases. “But they make money on branding, licensing, advertising and franchise fees.”...

Irine Spivak, a spokesperson for Hilton Americas, said the company has a history of standing up to would-be traffickers...“We have a long-standing record of opposing human trafficking and sexual exploitation, demonstrated through our efforts to provide anti-human trafficking training to all Team Members across all brands and properties.”...

One victim, named in pleadings as Jane Doe #6, was a 15-year-old high school student in 2016 when she was drugged at a party. A pimp took the girl to a Comfort Inn in the 6600 block of the Southwest Freeway at Westpark and sold her to johns there for more than a week. The girl, who is now 17, has since completed a Harris County STAR court diversion program that helps with addiction.

“In her case, given the frequency of the visits, they should have known what was going on,” McAdams said...

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12 December 2019

Major global hotel brands accused of profiting from sex trafficking

Author: Kate Hodal, The Guardian

Hotel brands owned by Hilton, Intercontinental and Best Western are among a number of leading global chains accused of profiting from sex trafficking.

In a landmark case that lawyers claim demonstrates “industry-wide failures” to prevent sex trafficking, it has been alleged that women and children were held captive, abused and sold for sex in their guest rooms across the US.

A total of 13 women have accused a dozen hotel groups of wilfully ignoring warning signs that sexual exploitation was taking place on their premises...

An estimated 80% of all human trafficking arrests occur in or around hotels, the lawsuit claims. In 2014, 92% of the calls the National Human Trafficking Hotline received involved reports of sex trafficking taking place at hotels, according to the litigation.

Despite well-publicised industry-wide initiatives to tackle child and sex trafficking, including staff training to identify potential victims, the hotel chains named in the lawsuit failed to adequately implement such policies, and in some cases failed to implement any policies at all, the lawsuit claims...

In a statement, Best Western Hotels & Resorts said: “Best Western International, Inc condemns human trafficking. It is a despicable crime and the criminals who intentionally inflict this suffering on their victims should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law...

A spokesperson for Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc told the Guardian: “Hilton condemns all forms of human trafficking, including for sexual exploitation. As signatories of the ECPAT code since 2011, we are fully committed, in each and every one of our markets, to protecting individuals from all forms of abuse and exploitation....

A spokesperson for InterContinental Hotels & Resorts said: “We condemn human trafficking in all forms and are committed to working with hotel owners to fight human trafficking across our industry and in local communities....


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9 December 2019

Top U.S. hotels sued for 'industry-wide failures' to prevent sex trafficking

Author: Thomas Reuter Foundation

Twelve hotel chains were named and accused of knowing and ignoring warning signs that women and children were sold as sex slaves on their premises, according to the filing, a consolidation of 13 existing cases, in U.S. federal court in Columbus, Ohio.

The filing marked the first time the hotel industry – which has long been accused of serving as a breeding ground for sexual exploitation of women and children – faced action as a group.

The case drew together 13 separate actions that had been filed in Ohio, Massachusetts, Georgia, Texas and New York.

Among those named in the 13 cases were Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., Red Roof Inn, Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, Best Western Hotels & Resorts and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts Inc.

Representatives of the hotel groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment...

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.

An estimated 400,000 people are believed trapped in modern slavery in the United States, from forced labor to sex trafficking, according to the Global Slavery Index, published by the human rights group Walk Free Foundation...

“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 women in the complaint said she was held captive at age 26 at various locations of Wyndham Hotels for six weeks in 2012.

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