Wave of Sex Trafficking Lawsuits Implicates Hospitality Industry
“In 2019 and 2020, victims of alleged sex trafficking filed a flurry of lawsuits against hotel franchisors, franchisees, owners and operators that rocked the hospitality industry,” Atkins and Lee explained, adding that cases filed under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) increased from just seven suits in 2018 to 43 lawsuits initiated in 2019. “At the heart of these lawsuits is the allegation that corporations — typically hotels, motels and truck stops, which may unknowingly provide a venue for trafficking crimes — have turned a blind eye to these criminal acts.”
While the TVPRA is typically used for criminally prosecuting the traffickers themselves, victims have brought civil suits against hotel defendants under a less stringent civil remedy subsection and its “knew or should have known” standard. The jury is out as to whether these claims will prevail, but Atkins and Lee detailed some early lessons from how these cases are proceeding so far. For example, one judge has stated that plaintiffs must demonstrate a continuous business relationship between the trafficker and hotels that could be argued to be a tacit agreement.
Understanding the signs that sex trafficking could be happening at your business, and training staff on these signs, is a key approach to mitigating risk and preventing such activity.
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