CategoriesCivil Rights Law
Commercial sex trafficking continues to be a major national and international issue. In 2000, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to combat sex trafficking, protect victims, and punish violators through developing international minimum standards and a complex, national legal scheme for bringing human trafficking claims. In 2003, Congress added § 1595, a civil liability statute, which it broadened even further in 2008. However, the statute remained largely unused during its first fifteen years, spawning less than 300 claims, most of which involved forced labor and not sex trafficking. However, victims of sex trafficking are starting to utilize the statute to hold third parties accountable for benefitting from sex trafficking and doing nothing to prevent it.
The hospitality industry plays a unique role in the sex trafficking industry. Hotels are a leading venue for sex trafficking, reporting more incidents than brothels. While many hotel franchisors established policies and training to recognize sex trafficking, hotels and their franchisors continue to benefit from the continued use of their hotel rooms for sex trafficking ventures. However, the implementation of these policies and training could make hotel franchisors vicariously or directly liable for sex trafficking under § 1595. If a hotel franchisor implements a franchise-wide policy and enforces it, the hotel franchisor risks creating an agency relationship regarding sex trafficking, potentially becoming vicariously liable for the negligence of its hotel franchisees. Likewise, if a hotel franchisor implements a policy but fails to ensure its efficient enforcement, the hotel franchisor could be directly liable for neglecting a duty it voluntarily undertook. While § 1595 can be used to hold hotel franchisors’ feet to the fire in combatting sex trafficking, this use could also discourage hotel franchisors from taking any actions at all.