On July 31, 2022, Judge Doug Schrantz in Benton County, Arkansas, ruled that OM Hospitality, Inc., the owner of the Economy Inn, was liable for damages after a victim of commercial sexual exploitation was held hostage at the hotel for months at a time. The judge issued a default judgement on April 8, 2022 on the victim’s behalf. The judge ruled that OM Hospitality, Inc. must pay the victim $25.4 million in damages, which included over $19 million in punitive, or punishment, damages.
According to court documents, from the summer of 2014 through July 2017, the victim was held by her trafficker at the Economy Inn. She was forced to perform sexual acts with men in exchange for money. All the money went to her trafficker. Throughout the years above, the victim was between the ages of 14 and 17 years old.
The victim was held hostage at the Economy Inn for up to a month and a half at a time. The Economy Inn management would notify her trafficker if law enforcement officers were at the hotel, and even told her trafficker to move her down the street to the Royal Inn when officers were on hotel premises. The trafficker paid for the rooms in cash, and motel staffers were never allowed in the room to clean.
Meredith Moore, an attorney who represented the victim, stated, “This judgment is to send a clear message to businesses in Arkansas that this won’t be tolerated and that we’re not going to allow young girls to be victimized like this. It’s meant to send a message to other businesses similarly situated that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated and if you are doing this, you need to clean up your act because this is what you may be facing.”
Due to the failure of the hospitality industry to implement industry-wide anti-trafficking trainings, policies, and procedures, traffickers are able to easily exploit thousands of victims each year. Hotels and motels are among the most common venues that facilitate and financially benefit from sex trafficking. These venues provide both easy entry and financial secrecy for sex buyers. The Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act provides means to hold hotels both criminally accountable and civilly liable for sex trafficking. In fact, in 2017, in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, a hotel was convicted for sex trafficking.
The CSE Institute urges the hospitality industry to take ownership of this problem and confront it with tangible solutions. These solutions could include mandatory trainings for all management and employees to help them recognize the signs of sex trafficking in hotels and what to do if they suspect trafficking. The CSE Institute also urges the industry to stop turning a blind eye to the commercial sexual exploitation happening within their hotels. Instead, hotels and motels should become a leading force in stopping this exploitation altogether. The CSE Institute recognizes the need for legislation that would require these types of trainings, policies, and procedures to be implemented in every hotel and motel across the country. Finally, and most importantly, the CSE Institute commends the bravery of the victim who came forward and reported these crimes. Survivor’s voices are the key to changing the trafficking narrative.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.