While there isn't much data available on sexual assault or violence occurring in hotels, many victims say that's where their abuse took place.
Of the sex-trafficking cases investigated in 2021, 80 percent occurred at a hotel, according to the annual Federal Human Trafficking Report. Unfortunately, sex crimes and intimate partner violence are already underreported, as the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in 2021, only 22 percent of sexual assaults and 50 percent of domestic violence cases were disclosed to police.
However, between 2007 and 2017 — the first ten years of the National Human Trafficking Hotline — 3,596 of the reports received involved a hotel. A 2018 study from Polaris found that 80 percent of those cases involved commercial sex acts.
Polaris surveyed 127 survivors of such cases, with 94 percent saying the hotel staff did not recognize the situation as trafficking and did not offer assistance. Unfortunately, 79 percent of hotels say they are understaffed, according to a survey from the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Yvonne Chen, director at ECPAT-USA, a nonprofit dedicated to combatting the sexual exploitation of children, said that the Covid-19 pandemic brought challenges such as staffing shortages, as well as the ability to check-in without going through reception.
“Each hotel is different, but fewer people mean there are potentially fewer eyes on what is happening,” she told The New York Times. “In light of Covid, we’ve seen vulnerabilities increase for everyone and vulnerabilities are what traffickers target.”
The Times also reported that of the 83 federal sex-trafficking civil suits, hotels were respondents in 17. A paper in Religions analyzing the role of hotels in sex crimes concluded that “it is likely that the onset of civil action against the hospitality industry is promoting behavioral change.”
The American Hotel and Lodging Association has adopted a number of policies in recent years, including online training programs and policies around recognizing red flags in customer behavior. If someone seems distressed, or if someone becomes hostile and exerts control, or does not allow their companion to speak, are all common signs.
If you witness a potential incident of domestic violence or sex-trafficking, experts recommend not to directly insert yourself by confronting them, but to instead alert law enforcement.
To report a potential human trafficking situation, call the hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or submit a tip online here.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available at 800-799-7233, by online chat, or by texting "START" to 88788.
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