How can 1.6 million photos of empty hotel rooms help curb human trafficking?

Hotel pics that are uploaded to the TraffickCam website (by anyone—hotel guests, staff, management) are digitally compared to current online photos advertising the victims of sex trafficking. This helps law enforcement locate and rescue the victims. It also helps identify which hotels are serving as the location for an illegal industry that nets $32 billion per year in the US alone.

Human trafficking is on the rise in all 50 states, and a hotel can be sued by the victims of this modern-day form of slavery, citing that the hotel should have known what was happening and done more to stop it. While many victims stay silenced, believing they will be hurt or imprisoned if discovered, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 focuses on the prosecution of the traffickers.

The hospitality industry is in a unique position to help prevent and stop human trafficking (see How Hotels Can Help below). TraffickCam has more than 150,000 hotels in its database. And that growing number has helped lead to the identification of hotels at fault.

A hotel in Salisbury, Maryland, was recently the subject of a lawsuit contending the hotel made no effort to correct the dangers on site. The red flags?

  • The trafficker rented the room for days at a time but refused housekeeping service.
  • A litany of online complaints made by former guests, citing prostitution and drug activity.

Likewise, a motel in Philadelphia is the first hotel in Pennsylvania to be sued under a new state law that allows the victims of human traffickers to sue the hotel where the abuse happened. The warning signs there?

  • After inquiring in the lobby, guests were directed to the victim’s room.
  • Security cam footage showed of a steady stream of different men going in and out of the victim’s room.
  • The teen victim, dressed scantily, befriended staff and was seen in the hallways.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 7,572 human trafficking cases were reported in 2016. It is estimated that human trafficking affects 300,000 Americans under the age of 18 each year. Victims are typically recruited young, between the age of 12 and 14, and are forced against their will to engage in commercial sex acts. The victims get paid little, if anything, and 75% of victims report they have been advertised online, according to the Exchange Initiative, an organization that works to end sex trafficking.

How Hotels Can Help:

  1. Adopt a policy and join The Code (The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism) to be known as a responsible brand and mitigate risks.
  2. Train staff to identify victims and provide a safe place to file reports. Visit The Polaris Project for training tools.
  3. Support TraffickCam in its efforts to increase the database.