Photo Credit: Kat Smith
The Sex-Trafficking Lawsuits Plaguing Major Hotel Chains
Last week, we brought you the story of a woman’s allegations made against the Cambria Hotel in DC. What we were unaware of was that it would become part of a larger conversation that would include a revelation of sex-trafficking lawsuits that are currently plaguing major hotel chains.
In our original story, we pointed out that a woman named Maya Angelique stayed at the Cambria Hotel in Washington, D.C., when she came forward with a terrifying story about suspicious behavior after a recent stay — and this prompted others to come forward with their ordeals at the hotel, raising suspicions of sex trafficking.
“I was in the shower at around 1:00 A.M. when a man with dreads wearing a blue shirt, jeans, and a mask tried to violently break into my room. He somehow had a KEY to open my room door,” she wrote.
She went on to explain that if it weren’t for the doorstop, he would have been in the room with her. But when she tried to explain her ordeal to the Cambria Hotel front desk, the concierge explained that it was merely “housekeeping” trying to get into the room by mistake. (At 1:00 in the morning?)
Subsequently, our story was picked up by other outlets, and it went viral. While this is certainly a positive thing from a website traffic standpoint, it means nothing without definitive action from officials and other members of law enforcement. And while it seems that at least one official is taking the claims seriously, the question of why it took something this serious to uncover a series of sex trafficking lawsuits against at least three of the major hotel chains still remains up in the air.
Let’s take a look at what we know about the sex trafficking lawsuits that are still pending against several major hotel chains.
Who is Involved in the Sex Trafficking Lawsuit?
To be clear, the sex-trafficking lawsuits against major hotel chains don’t just consist of one lawsuit. In fact, there are currently dozens of sex-trafficking lawsuits that have been filed against at least three of the major hotel chains.
The first lawsuit of its kind became public knowledge in 2019, when a woman — identified only as S.J. in the federal filings — claimed she was held hostage throughout her childhood in at least two major New York City motels. In response, according to Yahoo, she slapped a $10 million lawsuit against Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, which owns Howard Johnson, and Choice Hotels Corp., which operates Econo Lodge.
S.J.’s lawsuit was made public shortly just two months after a similar lawsuit was filed in Atlanta, GA, against Red Roof Inns, Inc.; Choice Hotels International, Inc., which owns Suburban Extended Stay; La Quinta Worldwide, LLC, which is owned by Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; and Extended Stay America, Inc. According to Fox Business, the Atlanta lawsuit alleges that several Atlanta and Baton Rouge, LA-area hotels owned by these chains not only assisted sex traffickers in evading the long arm of law enforcement but actually profited from said sex traffickers, as well.
“These lawsuits demonstrate what we all know: hotels know about sex trafficking; hotels participate in sex trafficking, and hotels make money from sex trafficking,” said lawyer Jonathan Tonge, who co-filed the suits with attorney Patrick J. McDonough, to Fox Business. “When the choice comes down to leaving a room empty or renting that room to sex traffickers, the hotels in these lawsuits consistently chose to rent the room to sex traffickers.”
As of this writing, Fast Company reports that there are “dozens” of sex-trafficking lawsuits pending against several hotel chains, including the Hilton Hotel, for similar reasons.
The latest lawsuit of its kind was filed in Miami in October 2021, according to the Pensacola News Journal. According to this lawsuit, which was filed against Marriott International and Hilton Worldwide Holdings, alleges that a 15-year-old victim was trafficked at these hotels through an ad on Craigslist. When the initial trafficker was convicted of sex crimes in 2012, his friend took over.
What are the Claims?
At the crux of all of these lawsuits against the hotel chains lies the rights for victims contained in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, “which allows civil suits against people and entities reasonably aware of trafficking and profiting from it,” according to Fast Company. This, then, is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
What do the Hotel Chains have to Say About This?
From Red Roof Inn
“Red Roof condemns and has zero tolerance for, human trafficking and child exploitation. Red Roof expects its franchisees to follow the policy and as part of our franchise agreement, comply with the law. In light of this pending litigation, Red Roof is unable to discuss specifics of the case, however, Red Roof will continue to work with law enforcement and aggressively enforce these human rights policies and will take all appropriate action.”
From Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
“[W]e have worked to enhance our policies condemning human trafficking while also providing training to help our team members, as well as the hotels we manage, identify and report trafficking activities,” spokesperson Gabriella Chiera said in a statement. “We also make training opportunities available for our franchised hotels, which are independently owned operated. As the matter is subject to pending litigation, we’re unable to comment further at this time.”
From Choice Hotels
“While we cannot comment on any specifics regarding pending litigation, we condemn human trafficking and are committed to raising awareness of and combatting this issue with our franchisees.”
“[Hilton] 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.”
From The Marriott
“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.”