Victims sue hotel chains, saying they ignored the signs of human trafficking

Victims sue hotel chains, saying they ignored the signs of human trafficking
This sign shows best practices for the hotel industry when it comes to spotting and fighting human trafficking. (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Some human trafficking survivors are going after hotels, saying they profited from their suffering.

Thirteen women are suing major hotel chains for allegedly turning a blind eye to the warning signs of sex trafficking.

Victims sue hotel chains, saying they ignored the signs of human trafficking

More than a dozen federal lawsuits have been filed in five states including here in Ohio.

The lawsuits, consolidated in federal court in Columbus, name hotels including Hilton, Red Roof Inn, Intercontinental, Best Western and Wyndham Hotels.

There are 12 hotels named in total.

One of the victims is from Ohio.

A woman out of Cincinnati says she was repeatedly victimized because hotels didn't prevent human trafficking on their properties.

The woman, called “AC” in the lawsuit, says she was first trafficked at 19 years old, and physically tortured while working in several hotels.

Hotels train to fight human trafficking

Ohio ranks fourth in the nation for reported human trafficking cases.

Cleveland hotels prepared to fight the problem back in July, when thousands of people visited our city for the All-Star Game.

19 News spoke with Joe Savarise, executive director of the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association.

“We are the frontline against human trafficking,” he said in July.

Savarise said they helped train hotel employees to spot the signs of human trafficking before the Republican National Convention three years ago.

And they continue training across the state.

“We learned from it, we added to it and evolved it and in those interceding few years I think we have developed a deeper model that is more focused and more consistent,” he said.

19 News spoke to the New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, who filed the lawsuits over the phone Wednesday. They say this is just the beginning, and they expect to file more cases.

Hotels respond

Hilton Worldwide Holdings sent a statement to CNN, saying "Hilton condemns all forms of human trafficking, including for sexual exploitation.

"As signatories of the ECPAT [formerly 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."

"We condemn human trafficking in any form," Wyndham Hotels & Resorts said in a statement to CNN. "Through our partnerships with the International Tourism Partnership, ECPAT-USA, Polaris Project and other organizations that share the same values, we 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. We also make training opportunities available for our franchised hotels, which are independently owned and operated."

Resources

-PROJECT STAR is a 24/7 hotline for human trafficking from the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center: 855-431-STAR (7827).

-The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711)|Text 233733

-Polaris Project has more on how hotels are stepping up to fight human trafficking.

-The Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign has tips and resources for hotels to educate employees about human trafficking.

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