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You Won’t Believe This: Trafficking Happens in Hotels You Know

It’s true: In the U.S. 80% of sex trafficking happens in familiar hotels.

Imagine you’re checking into a Marriott or Hilton beside a young girl traveling with a group of suits. Maybe she’s dressed to the 9s, manicured, wearing a bodycon mini, and 6” heels. Or maybe she’s clothed in dingy, oversized sweats, looking malnourished with dark circles under her eyes. In either case, the alpha male insists on paying in cash.

It isn’t that bizarre. Signs of sex trafficking operations are only slightly concealed in hotels and motels across the U.S. Think excessive male traffic outside rooms, customers arriving without luggage, resistant to show ID, paying with cash or prepaid cards.

This, according to the Human Trafficking Institute’s 2021 survey that also dropped a staggering statistic, still holding: 80% of commercial sex operations in the U.S. where the location of the sex act was known happened in hotels. Nice hotels (even 5-star hotels), not roach traps. The owners of familiar franchises turn a blind eye to operations at thousands of participating locations and collect royalties from crimes that steal freedom for profit.

The New Yorker printed a scathing article in July 2023 about rampant sex trafficking rings that operate in hotel chains, detailing several survivor ordeals.

“Savannah later said that she hadn’t tried to escape sooner because Gunna had pointed a gun at her and said, ‘If you leave, I will come looking for you. I will go to jail, but it won’t be for anything less than murder.’ Now, as the sun rose behind the Days Inn and a rush of morning commuters roared along the interstate, the local police and a SWAT team surrounded the hotel.”

Hotels that harbor sex trafficking for profit are committing a class A felony. The only good news is that sex trafficking survivors have been winning lawsuits against participating hotel franchise owners and management for damages since 2015. That’s when Lisa Ricchio triumphed in a first-of-its-kind sex trafficking lawsuit against Shangri-La Motel in Seekonk, Massachusetts. 

During her trial, Ricchio testified that one of the owners had given the trafficker a high five in the parking lot and discussed business with him. (Both men denied this. Most hotels deny complicity.) The case settled for an undisclosed sum on the second day of the trial, according to Bernice Young, writing for the New Yorker article (July 26, 2023).

“At one point we were living in an extended stay hotel,” Ricchio said. This was almost two years, and the owner definitely knew what was going on. My trafficker knew someone in the local sheriff’s department and whenever a raid was coming, we would know and slip out…

“During that time, he sexually assaulted me nonstop; he had burned me on my privates. He cut me; he didn’t allow me to eat or drink.”

Two times, she said, motel employees saw her in distress but made no effort to intervene. She finally escaped and went to the authorities.

Then, four years after her escape, NPR reported, Lisa Ricchio did something “novel.” She sued the hotel where she’d been enslaved. Under the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA – which was reauthorized and expanded in 2008 “to allow survivors to sue anyone who benefits from an enterprise they knew, or could have known, was enabling traffic” – she brought charges against the motel, accusing its owners of financially profiting from the crime.

And she won.

Have Any More Hotel Lawsuits Been Filed Since 2015?

Yes! More than 100. A wave of hotel/sex trafficking lawsuits in 2023 alone accused more than 40 hotel chains across the country of facilitating trafficking operations. Some of the most familiar brands from the American roadside landscape” are now facing legal repercussions, according to the Human Trafficking Report. Here are some you may recognize:

  • Wyndham
  • Marriott
  • Hilton
  • Holiday Inn
  • Days Inn
  • Comfort Inn
  • Motel 6
  • Quality Inn
  • Super 8 Motels
  • Red Roof Inn
  • Hawthorn Suites
  • Days Inn
  • Red Lion
  • Baymont Inn
  • Best Western
  • Extended Stay America

“We focus not enough on how human trafficking intersects with the legitimate economy,” said Louise Shelley, director of George Mason University’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center. “This is one of the key points in the supply chain where it does” – Bernice Young, New Yorker.

On February 14, 2024, two women who reported being coerced into prostitution as teenagers at a motel were awarded a combined sum of $24.5 million in damages. Ramara Inc. was found responsible for the trafficking operations that took place on its premises.

Please tell us your story. We want to help you pursue legal action that can help you take your power back and hold hotels accountable for being complicit in trafficking. It’s completely confidential and it costs nothing to talk to us.

Together, we can help end sex trafficking.