What started as a trickle has become a flood as over 40 new lawsuits have been filed in various federal courts accusing major-name hotel chains of being complicit in human sex trafficking. Hilton, Marriot, Wyndham and more have all been named as defendants as women across the country break their silence and demand to know why hotel staff at these locations never acted to help them.
The signs of abuse should have been obvious to anyone who was willing to pay attention to them. “Blood and used condoms” would litter rooms used by one plaintiff while “skinny, underdressed women loitered in hotel lobbies while men wearing gold chains waited their turns.” Another plaintiff says that she became such a permanent fixture at one hotel that staff took enough pity on her to “give her snacks and small gifts,” yet no one appears to have picked up a phone and called for help.
The fact that this was happening on their properties should not have come as a surprise to the hotels named in the lawsuits. The plaintiffs claim that rooms used for trafficking generally showed the same signs of illicit behavior. Rooms would often be paid for in cash and sometimes for weeks at a time. Once there, frequent requests for extra sheets and towels would be the norm while housekeeping would often walk in to find everything from bottles of lubricant and piles of condoms to the women themselves, either chained or tied to fixtures to prevent their escape. Rooms would often have over a dozen visitors in a night, generally by men who were carrying no luggage.
Some of the hotel locations highlighted in the lawsuits have mentions of prostitution in online reviews written by previous patrons while other women say they screamed and cried out for help when the door to the room was wide open. The signs were quite literally everywhere. Still, no one came to their aid.
The lawsuits allege that profits motivated the hotels to maintain their silence and complicity in the events taking place behind their walls. And while the corporate offices of these chains may wax poetic about how seriously they take their role in stemming the tide of human sex trafficking – in many cases involving minors – the tune being sung at franchise locations across the country is significantly different.
It is that very difference between the franchise and the franchise locations that corporate offices are clinging to when trying to distance themselves from the spotlight. The plaintiffs aren’t having it. As one lawyer representing women who were trafficked in multiple states says so succinctly, “If you can control the thread count of the bed sheets or the furniture in the lobby, you can control what mandates you are giving for anti-trafficking policies and efforts.”