Hotels: Raising the Risk of Human Slavery
A teenage girl pays for a hotel room in cash while glancing nervously at the older man beside her. The “do not disturb” sign hangs on the same door for a week. A chain of men enter and exit one room all through the night.
These are just a few signs that human trafficking could be taking place in a hotel.
While driving along the road, the sight of motels and hotels might appear as ordinary as any fast food restaurant or gas station. However according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, hotels and motels remain one of the main venues for human trafficking. Even a quick glance through articles about human trafficking reveals countless connections between trafficking and hotels.
For instance, a man arrested in South Florida last October told the young woman he had been exploiting to cover her body while checking into a hotel. He also demanded that she retrieve two keys for the room – one for herself and one for him to enter through the back of the hotel to receive all the money.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, hotels and motels remain one of the main venues for human trafficking
This past March, Savannah Parva, now 31, said, “I was sold out of a hotel in Apopka’ as a child. My trafficker would leave me there. He would arrange for the staff to let [men paying for sex] in the room.…They never asked if I needed help. They didn’t ask if I wanted to let the men come in… I had been beaten, bloody, bruised, walking down the hall at 12 years old, and nobody asked if I needed anything.”
Between December 2007 through February 2015, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 1,434 cases of human trafficking and 294 cases of labor exploitation in hotels and motels throughout the United States. As staggering as these numbers are, keep in mind that they don’t account for the cases that go unreported or undetected. In reality, Polaris Project suspects the numbers to be much higher. “It’s happening in every kind of hotel, from the five star to the ones that only drug dealers stay at. We’re seeing more boys and girls between ages of 14 and 16,” commented Sgt Adam Kavanaugh with the St. Louis County Police Department.
“It’s happening in every kind of hotel, from the five star to the ones that only drug dealers stay at. We’re seeing more boys and girls between ages of 14 and 16,” commented Sgt Adam Kavanaugh with the St. Louis County Police Department.
With the option to pay for rooms in cash or to regularly switch up rooms or establishments, pimps and traffickers often utilize hotels because they believe them to be low-risk. Traffickers also find that customers prefer the anonymity of purchasing sex in hotel rooms. It’s about time for hotels to become high-risk for traffickers.
Most hotels do not personally enslave individuals, but the question remains: just how much responsibility do hotels hold in the fight against human trafficking due to the vast exploitation of their venues?
“One of the statements (by the hotel owners) was, ‘We just rent the room, that’s all we can do,’ ” Richard Slawson, a Palm Beach Gardens based attorney reported to which he responsed: “That’s not true. That’s not all you can do. You can train your staff. It should have been obvious to the personnel. When an underage girl is brought to a hotel and there are groups of men seen leaving the hotel room, it’s obvious what’s going on.”
In fact, training and raising awareness remains one of the key ways hotels can join in the fight to end slavery. The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) has partnered with Polaris Project to create a training program for hotel staff to recognize human trafficking signs. During this course, staff become trained to recognize different types of human trafficking, to identify signs of human trafficking, and to respond to this issue.
Not to mention, guests can make all the difference too! In 2015 alone, the average number of guests per night equaled 4.8 million people (seriously - per night!). Imagine if even a portion of those 4.8 million individuals watched out for human trafficking signs each day? Though guests may not witness every behind the scenes occurrence, they hear and see crucial things that employees don’t always catch.
In 2015 alone, the average number of guests per night equaled 4.8 million people (seriously - per night!). Imagine if even a portion of those 4.8 million individuals watched out for human trafficking signs each day?
As a guest, here are some red flags to look out for in a hotel or motel according to Polaris:
Signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment, or fatigue
Evidence of verbal threats or physical violence
Exhibits fearful, nervous, anxious, or submissive demeanor
Excessive foot traffic in and out of rooms
Significantly older boyfriend or with older men at the hotel
No freedom of movement, constantly monitored
Hourly stay or extended stay with few possessions
Whether you’re a guest or employee at a hotel, it’s also important to follow the following steps when responding to or reporting any signs of trafficking:
Do not at any time attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions.
Report suspicious human trafficking activity to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888 or texting HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733)
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About the Author
Lauren Farris is a recent graduate from the University of Washington with a degree in Creative Writing and Sociology, and she's excited to partner with Dressember in the fight to end slavery. She also adores corgis, messy paint, mud, hiking in wildflowers, reading, traveling, and a good Lord of the Rings marathon.