Human Trafficking: Those Who Allow It Need to be Held Accountable

Posted on August 27, 2020 by Laura E. Laughlin

It is human nature to distance ourselves from things that are terrible and difficult to comprehend.  Human trafficking?  “Sure, I’ve heard of it, but that’s not something that happens near me.  Not in my neighborhood.”  You see, that’s where you’re wrong.  Human trafficking is happening in plain sight all around us.  It’s not always in a dark alley, in a lonely basement (although it can happen there, too).  It’s in nice homes, hotel chains, and other unsuspecting locations.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain labor or commercial sex acts. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.  The traffickers keep the victim from leaving by violence, threats of violence, psychological manipulation, withholding the victim’s identification or passport, drugs, alcohol, or other ways.

Even though the crime of human trafficking may seem like the traffickers are the ones to blame, hotels also hold some responsibility when it turns a blind eye and profits financially from the crime.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act[1] allows for civil lawsuits against anyone who “knew or should have known” that sex trafficking occurred and financially benefitted.  This means that hotels and other companies that allow human trafficking to take place on its premises can be held accountable.

These are some of the red flags that human trafficking is happening in a hotel:

  • Rooms are paid for in cash sometimes for weeks at a time
  • ID is not presented or checked when booking the room
  • Many men are coming in and out of the hotel room, oftentimes without luggage
  • Requests for excessive change of sheets and/or towels
  • Large boxes of condoms or lubricant in the room during cleaning
  • Refusing to allow the room to be cleaned for a significant period of time

Although it may be difficult to show that the hotel and its staff had “actual knowledge” of human trafficking, when multiple red flags are present, and the hotel ignores them, it makes a stronger case to meet the “should have known” standard under the law.  Liability against the hotel is based upon constructive knowledge and the more evidence there is and fact specific examples, the better the chances are of holding the hotel responsible in a civil lawsuit.

To understand the extent of the problem, in the last five years, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, there have been 35-40 major human trafficking cases.  Most of these cases have been in Bensalem due to the high volume of hotels and close proximity to major roadways.  In 2013, the Network of Victim Assistance of Bucks County (NOVA) established The Bucks Coalition Against Trafficking (BCAT), whose mission is to end human trafficking and provide education to Bucks County hotel workers on recognizing the signs of human trafficking.  Despite offering to provide education to local hotels, none of the 17 hotels accepted the training that had been offered.

More education would allow hotel workers to better recognize the signs of human trafficking and empower them to speak up and put a stop to it.  Ending human trafficking would be the best outcome, but in order to get there, we need education and accountability for those who allow it to happen.

[1] 18 U.S.C. § 1595(a)