Hidden in Plain Sight: When Hotels May Be Liable for Human Trafficking

Published on October 19, 2020, by Matthew Sharp

Personal Injury

Hidden in Plain Sight: When Hotels May Be Liable for Human Trafficking

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) states that hotels can be held criminally and civilly liable for sex trafficking that occurs on the premises. An employee knowingly renting a room to a trafficker or a “sex buyer” using the room for a commercial sex act makes the hotel liable under TVPA.

Hotels Have a Duty to Fight Human Trafficking

According to federal law, those who pay for sex acts are considered traffickers. Under TVPA, sex trafficking survivors or the federal government can file a lawsuit against a trafficker. However, a suit can also be filed against any entity who benefited financially from the act while knowing that the activity violated the human trafficking law.

Despite federal law, this statute holding hotels responsible is not used very often. However, in 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit allowed a case to go forward after noting that the traffickers and hotel owners engaged in an exchange and the trafficking victim’s pleas for help were ignored by the owners. These facts stood as proof that the hotel owners were culpable.

A hotel employee can thwart human trafficking if he or she is trained to recognize the signs. There are multiple indicators that all hotel employees, from housekeepers to front desk staff, can be trained to spot and report. Some of these red flags include:

  • Rooms that are paid for in cash
  • Older men checking into hotels with minor girls
  • Frequently observing different men entering and leaving a specific room
  • Guest checking into the hotel without proper identification or luggage
  • Guests staying in the room for long periods of time

Some hotel chains have initiated training for employees to help identify the signs of human trafficking. However, the industry as a whole has not done much to fight human trafficking.

Holding Hotels Liable Could Decrease Trafficking

Allowing sex trafficking survivors to file civil suits against hotels helps victims obtain compensation for their emotional and physical injuries. Filing a suit could also help combat human trafficking. If hotels are at risk of getting held liable as passive participants in criminal activities, companies may be more likely to adopt policies and procedures to combat trafficking. This helps discourage traffickers from using hotels for trafficking, which could have a deterrent effect on this crime.