Dozens of lawsuits nationwide accuse major hotel chains, including Marriott, Hilton, and Wyndham, of not just ignoring sex trafficking on their properties, but profiting from it, reports The Wall Street Journal.
The suits, filed in both state and federal courts and involving dozens of hotel companies, seek monetary damages as well as policies to stop trafficking at both corporate-owned and franchised locations.
The lawsuits’ details are graphic and gut-wrenching: malnourished, underage girls loitering in lobbies and lounges for weeks; obvious signs of sex and drug activity in hotel rooms; girls obviously in distress in sight of employees; large quantities of sex paraphernalia in rooms paid for with cash; numerous male visitors appearing without luggage; excessive towel and sheet requests.
The suits argue that the hotels would reasonably be aware of trafficking on their properties and point to an array of external indications, such as online reviews discussing the activity and police busts on site.
The lawsuits make use of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which allows civil suits against people and entities reasonably aware of trafficking and profiting from it. Lawyers around the country began searching for survivors through advocacy groups to serve as plaintiffs. The suits are in early stages, and dozens more are expected to be filed.
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Hilton says the company “condemns all forms of human trafficking, including for sexual exploitation. As signatories of the ECPAT [End Child Prostitution and Trafficking] Code since 2011, we are fully committed, in each and every one of our markets, to protecting individuals from all forms of abuse and exploitation. We expect our Team Members, as well as our business partners to help us meet this commitment. We require all our hotels, including franchises, to conduct training on identifying the signs of human trafficking and on how to report them.”
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts declined to comment on the lawsuit but said: “We condemn human trafficking in any form . . . We mandate training for our company employees around the world to help them identify and report trafficking activities. We also make training opportunities available for our franchised hotels, which are independently owned and operated.”
Marriott said it does not comment on pending litigation, but offered information on its human-trafficking awareness training, along with the following statement: “Marriott International is working to help combat the horrific crime of human trafficking in hotels. Marriott International developed training in partnership with leading human rights organizations to teach its hotel workers to recognize the signs of human trafficking and how to respond. The company made the training mandatory for all its hotel workers in 2017; to date more than 700,000 employees have completed the training.”
This post has been updated with responses from Marriott and Wyndham.