Human trafficking is at an all-time high in today's world, but not everyone wants to believe it can happen right here at home. However, the numbers show that it is more common that one might think. The National Human Trafficking Hotline shows 1,885 phone calls were made in 2018 to report suspected instances of human trafficking in the state of Florida alone. Of those phone calls, over 760 cases of human trafficking were officially filed. For a while, Florida was listed in the top three states for human trafficking, but Floridians are not backing down from this fight. Grassroots organizations like United Abolitionists have started right here at home to combat this growing threat against mostly women and children. The United Abolitionists estimate there have been more than 5,000 victims confirmed in Florida in the last thirteen years.
What is Human Trafficking?
The Department of Homeland Security describes human trafficking as the “use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act” for someone else's financial gain. Some people tend to assume human trafficking has to involve the movement of individuals, but that is not accurate. Human trafficking simply refers to any type of forced labor or sexual activity from an individual. With such a general definition, it is easy for one to see why this would encompass such a large number of individuals and violations. The Global Slavery Index, an extension of an Australian non-profit called Walk Free, estimates there are about 403,000 people currently living in slavery in the United States. These individuals are held against their will by whatever means and they are used for either labor or commercial sex acts.
How are Hotels Involved with Human Trafficking?
Hotels have become a breeding ground for human trafficking. People are bringing victims there to house them in rooms while they are sold to clients, sometimes over the course of hours or days. Anyone can become a victim of human trafficking, but the majority of victims identified tend to be women and children.
In December 2019, the hotel industry faced legal action as a group for the first time ever in response to claims of human trafficking. The legal action compiled lawsuits filed in Ohio, New York, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Texas. This consolidated lawsuit represented a total of 13 women who claimed they were victims of human trafficking and had been sold for sex in hotel rooms. Some of these women were even minors at the time of the incidents. Twelve hotel chains were called into question, and they included the following:
- Best Western Hotel and Resorts
- Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc.
- Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts
- Red Roof Inn
- Wyndham Hotels and Resorts
The lawsuit claims these hotels knew there were signs of human trafficking going on in their rooms, but they chose to ignore those signs. For one woman who sustained multiple beatings while being held against her will in various Wyndham Hotels over the span of six weeks, it is hard to believe no one saw or heard anything alarming.
Can Hotels be Held Responsible for Ignoring Warning Signs?
Yes, hotels can be held responsible for ignoring warning signs especially now that Florida has a state law that requires hotels to train their employees on the topic. The HB851 Human Trafficking bill was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis last summer, and it went into effect July 1, 2019. It requires hotels to train their staff on warning signs of human trafficking.
Some of the warning signs include:
- An older male with a child exhibiting anxious behavior and no identification
- A large amount of electronic equipment
- An excessive amount of traffic to and from a room by new people
- A “Do Not Disturb” sign posted for days
Because Florida is such a hot spot for tourism, it unfortunately has become a prime location for human trafficking. By requiring hospitality industry training on the topic, Florida is hoping to change this connection to its tourism. If hotels fail to comply, they can be fined $2,000 a day after their first warning.
What To Do if You Suspect Human Trafficking?
If you suspect human trafficking, you can call the police to file a report. You can also call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. The number is toll-free and they have people working the phones every day of the week, all hours of the day. Specialists are standing by to listen to your concerns and provide you with the resources you need to move forward.
What To Do if You are a Victim of Human Trafficking?
If you, or a loved one, are or have been a victim of human trafficking, call the authorities and file a report. Then, call a trusted lawyer today at Keller, Melchiorre, and Walsh so we can help you develop a plan to bring those responsible to justice. You deserve to be safe and compensated for your pain. Let a legal professional guide you through this as we determine liability for all individuals involved.