Think you’ve never seen a victim of human trafficking? Think again. She’s the woman cleaning your hotel room. The man selling magazine subscriptions. The salon worker. The farm laborer. The health aide. The child.
Human trafficking is often referred to as modern day slavery. Victims are forced, tricked or coerced into labor and commercial sex acts. According to the Polaris Project, a non-profit advocacy organization, human trafficking is a booming business: it’s a $150 billion industry that victimizes 25 million people around the world.
Victims of human trafficking can be found in every demographic; vulnerable populations are particularly at risk. Traffickers frequently prey upon homeless minors, victims of violence, and oppressed peoples. They weave a web of psychological, physical and economic abuse that traps their victims in a cycle of isolation, exploitation and fear. Reporting perpetrators is often a risky prospect for trafficking victims; by reaching out for help, they may jeopardize their housing, immigration status, physical safety, and even their lives. Further, not all who are exploited by human traffickers identify as victims. Having been subjected to the nuanced and chronic manipulation of traffickers, victims may not understand their rights or even know that another way of life is possible.
The widespread and profitable business of human trafficking is a group effort, sustained by networks of perpetrators and the industries that implicitly or explicitly support them. A Human Rights First factsheet notes, “It is not only bribe taking officials who enable the business of human trafficking, but also actors in the transportation, hospitality, advertising, and financial sectors whose services are often used by perpetrators.” Hotels and motels, for instance, are major players in the trafficking system, profiting from the exploitation of their workers and their “guests.”
According to a report from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, 79% of human trafficking involves sexual exploitation. The majority of the victims are women and girls. Traffickers often rent rooms in hotels and motels, where they bring buyers to their victims. Sometimes buyers purchase sexual services off-site and return with the victim to rooms they have rented. Either way, hotels financially benefit from these illegal transactions; some even have unofficial arrangements with traffickers. At many hotels, employees don’t seem to notice trafficking activity, even when they’re exposed to it again and again. In a report on nbcwashington.com, a survivor of sex trafficking recalls, “Like, you pass valet, you pass the concierge desk, you pass maids in the hallway, and nobody says anything… It leaves you to wonder, like, do they care?”
While some hotels are now training their employees in identifying and reporting human trafficking, much more needs to be done. According to a Polaris Project report, some hotel owners decline to intervene in trafficking, claiming that their involvement would put them at risk and make them vulnerable to liability. But these claims pale beside the very real vulnerability of human trafficking victims, who are essentially imprisoned within their hotel rooms. When businesses that profit from exploitation claim ignorance to human trafficking, they become culpable in the perpetuation of modern-day slavery.
Are you a survivor of human trafficking? Do you know someone who has endured labor or sexual exploitation? If you are interested in learning how you can pursue justice through civil law, we encourage you to contact our experienced attorneys today.
Sources and Resources: