The sad saga of a human trafficking victim often begins with running away from a foster home, only to then fall into the clutches of an abuser who gets her hooked on drugs, and ending up in a hotel room forced to have sex with 20 men a day.
But attorneys at Newsome Melton and elsewhere are trying to write a new ending for the story through lawsuits against the businesses which greatly profit by making the exploitation possible—including hotels and motels which provide the location for the abuse, and the web hosts which connect the abusers with the Johns.
“The only way trafficking thrives is when the hotel industry or web hosts turn a blind eye,” said Maegan Peek Luka, an attorney with Newsome Melton who handles the cases. “The idea behind suing the hotels is to make them afraid not to pay attention.”
Human trafficking is defined as forcing someone into commercial sex or labor by using force, fraud or coercion. Anyone under age 18 involved in the commercial sex trade is a human trafficking victim, under federal law. (Human smuggling, by contrast, is moving people across borders.) The traffickers often withhold food, or drugs that they’ve gotten victims hooked on, as a way to coerce them to keep working.
Worldwide, nearly 25 million people are victims, according to the Human Trafficking Institute, which works with the criminal justice system to stamp out modern slavery. As an industry, trafficking profits add up to more than those of Apple, Microsoft Samsung, BP, and Exxon combined.
In U.S. federal criminal prosecutions, the vast majority of human trafficking cases are for the sex trade, with a small number for other forced labor. In 2019, half the criminal cases involved exploitation of children and the vast majority of all victims were female, according to the Human Trafficking Institute. And the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that the average age of a sexual trafficking victim is just 15 years old.
Along with criminal prosecutions, Congress created a right of private action for civil suits against traffickers in 2003 under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The act created new ways for trafficking victims to hold their abusers accountable by allowing suits against anyone who “knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture which that person knew or should have known has engaged in an act in violation of this chapter [77 of Title 18].”
And Congress is not alone in recognizing private industry’s role in facilitating human trafficking. Hotels and other travel companies have signed onto a code of conduct to take actions like training employees to spot trafficking and having a zero-tolerance policy against child exploitation.
“The hotel industry recognized that human trafficking was a very serious problem and the hotel industry plays a big part in it,” Luka said.
Hotels can help curtail the exploitation by requiring their staff to report signs such as young girls in rooms with no luggage, payment through prepaid cards or cash, trash cans full of condoms and guests who regularly turn away housekeeping services. “All those are red flags and the hotel should report it,” Luka said.
Along with creating a disincentive for abetting the trafficking industry, the civil lawsuits also directly help the victims. “Financially, it helps the women if we recover,” Luka said. “It helps them put their lives together and afford counseling because they are very, very emotionally damaged.”
If you have questions about this topic or need assistance filing a human trafficking claim, Newsome Melton can help. Contact us at 1-888-380-2809.