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Sex Trafficking Survivors Ask Judge To Consolidate Hotel Lawsuits In Columbus

Red Roof Inn is one of the hotel chains being sued by sex trafficking survivors.
Mike Mozart
Red Roof Inn is one of the hotel chains being sued by sex trafficking survivors.

Attorneys for sex trafficking survivors are asking a federal judge in Columbus to consolidate more than 20 cases into the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio.

The plaintiffs in the cases are suing several hotel chains, alleging that the companies helped perpetrate human trafficking by failing to stop it.

Six of the cases originate in Ohio, with the plaintiffs including the management companies for Red Roof Inn, Days Inn, Comfort Inn, and others.

Lawyers say their case rests on "The Trafficking Victim Protection Re-Authorization Act."

"The 2008 revision extended that nexus of liability to anyone who should have been aware of trafficking happening within its sort of business structure, so that it was profiting from something it should have known was trafficking," says Samantha Breakstone.

Breakstone is an associate attorney with the sex trafficking and abuse practice at Weitz & Luxenberg, a New York based firm that made the consolidation request. She says the hotel industry is a critical one when it comes to curbing human trafficking, and trainings have happened since the late 1990s.

She says there are multiple red flags that hotels should know about.

"If someone checks in and has very little baggage, if they're looking withdrawn, if they're checking in for an odd amount of time—either less than a day or for longer than a week—if they check in with three females, one man, if they check in with visible signs of injury," Breakstone lists off.

But the lawsuits list more egregious examples, like employees hearing screams or witnessing a person tied up. 

"They're in the best position to know what trafficking looks like. The hospitality industry has a major role to play in human trafficking," she says. "That is why they've been trained on it now for the past few decades."

In an email, Joe Savarise, executive director of the Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association, says their anti-trafficking efforts predate the lawsuits and that they're "100% committed" to the effort.

"Our organization makes sure that all professionally-run properties make anti-trafficking a priority, establish protocols and post those protocols, and implement awareness and interdiction training," he writes.

But Breakstone says to make a difference, that sort of training needs to be both mandatory and audited.

"Just because you train your franchisees, or your local managers or your corporate hotels, doesn't mean that that's being implemented on the ground level," she says.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.