"Avoid Human Trafficking Lawsuits by Learning the Signs"

Hotel Business
09.15.2021

Headshot of Sabrina AtkinsIn the Sept. 15, 2021, issue of Hotel Business, Sabrina Atkins discussed the increase in human trafficking cases brought against hotels and other lodging facilities and strategies for operators to identify and prevent trafficking on their premises.

Nearly 100 cases have been filed in state and federal courts related to human trafficking at hotels during the past two years.

“Many of the complaints filed in these cases allege that, pursuant to both state and federal statutes, certain hotels and lodging facilities knew or should have known that trafficking was purportedly occurring on the hotel premises and failed to take corrective measures,” Atkins said.

While there is still a question whether these lawsuits, many of which are still pending and in active discovery, will be able to proceed past the dispositive motion phase, Atkins anticipates that these cases will continue to increase exponentially across the country.

Plaintiffs in these cases have relied primarily on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) in their case filings, along with similar state trafficking laws, negligence and premises liability theories of recovery and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

While there is a difficult balance between guest privacy and the safety of guests and potential victims, Atkins shared signs that hotel staff can watch for that raise red flags, including increased foot traffic in and out of a single room, multiple phones and computers in a single room and guests requiring multiple sets of towels or bed sheets in a single day. Specifically related to victims themselves, staff should take note of women or young girls who appear malnourished or injured, have little luggage, no identification, no money and are constantly watched or monitored.

Some policies and procedures hotels already have in place can help limit the risk of on-property trafficking. These include requiring all guests to present identification upon check-in, instituting age requirements for registered guests to rent a room and collecting information on a room’s guest total upon check-in. Employees should particularly look out for suspicious behavior during late-night check-ins. It is important that staff documents any suspicious behavior and knows how to report it.

“While training on human trafficking has only become available in the recent years, there are nonprofit organizations that now offer in-person training on the topic,” said Atkins. “Additionally, and to the extent that a hotel belongs within a franchise, many franchises also offer web-based training. If, however, these training options are unavailable, having a simple meeting with staff and employees about human trafficking, what to look for and how to handle suspicions and concerns can go a long way to ensure that any concerning behavior is reported.”

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