PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A former Oregon woman says she was sold by her pimp for sex to at least 7 clients per night. She is now suing 6 major hotel chains, saying they are responsible for turning a blind eye to obvious signs she was a victim of human trafficking.
The woman is only identified by her initials, A.B., in the federal lawsuit filed in Portland.
“A.B. was trafficked for commercial sex at the age of 22 years old in Oregon and Washington,” wrote her lawyer Joel Shapiro. “In order to keep a roof over her head, she had to work for her share. A.B. was sold via commercial sex transactions at the Defendants’ hotel properties through force, fraud, and coercion as the Defendants did nothing but profit.”
The lawsuit says she is seeking $10 million from Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc., Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc., Marriott International Inc., Choice Hotels Corporation, Extended Stay America, Inc., and Red Lion Hotels Corporation. Each corporation runs hotels under various brands in Portland, Vancouver and Salem where the woman says she met clients for acts of prostitution in a 7-month span in 2012 and 2013.
“A.B. was subject to repeated instances of rape, physical abuse, verbal abuse, exploitation, psychological torment, and false imprisonment at the Defendants’ hotels,” wrote Shapiro. “During times she was with a ‘john’, her trafficker used hotel Wi-Fi to post advertisements, talk to ‘johns’, and watch and record her sexual acts.”
Shapiro says his client was advertised on backpage.com. The website has been blamed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as the prime place prostitutes are advertised online.
The lawsuit claims the staff at the hotels should have realized A.B. stayed at the hotels frequently and should have stepped in to help. The suit says staff ignored obvious signs of human trafficking such as her lack of eye contact and bottles of lubricants, boxes of condoms, used condoms in the trash, excessive requests for towels and linens, room rentals by her pimp and the fact she was arrested on hotel property.
”The foot traffic to the rooms was constant and voluminous. When the hotel doors were locked, A.B. would walk out of her room in a tank top and ‘booty shorts’ to open the front lobby door for unregistered men late at night,” wrote Shapiro.
Specifically, the lawsuit says the woman was trafficked at the Days Inn and Choice Hotel near the Vancouver Mall, the Extended Stay America in Vancouver, the Red Lion in Salem, the Residence Inn at the Portland Airport and the DoubleTree in Lloyd Center in Portland.
The lawsuit lists examples around the country of human trafficking cases at hotels, including the local case of Ashley Benson. She was murdered by a “john” at the Lloyd Center DoubleTree in 2014. The lawsuit says the hotels “financially benefit from their ongoing reputation for privacy, discretion, and the facilitation of commercial sex.”
KOIN 6 News has reached out to each hotel chain for comment but Shapiro says the companies have not received the lawsuit yet.
Hilton Hotels responded with the following statement:
“Hilton condemns all forms of human trafficking, including for sexual exploitation. As signatories of the ECPAT Code since 2011, we are fully committed, in each and every one of our markets, to protecting individuals from all forms of abuse and exploitation. We expect our Team Members, as well as our business partners to help us meet this commitment. We require all our hotels, including franchises, to conduct training on identifying the signs of human trafficking and on how to report them.”
Online, Hilton hotels says it is committed to combating human trafficking.
Wyndham Hotels/Days Inn responded with the following statement:
“We condemn human trafficking in any form. Through our partnerships with the International Tourism Partnership, ECPAT-USA, Polaris Project and other organizations that share the same values, we have worked to enhance our policies condemning human trafficking while also providing training to help our team members, as well as the hotels we manage, identify and report trafficking activities. We also make training opportunities available for our franchised hotels, which are independently owned and operated. As the matter is subject to pending litigation, we’re unable to comment further at this time.”
Other statements came in to KOIN 6 News:
“We condemn all forms of human trafficking, including for sexual exploitation. We require all our associates to be trained on identifying the signs of human trafficking and on how to report them. As this matter is subject to pending litigation, we’re unable to comment further at this time.” — Extended Stay America
“While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we are committed to conducting business free from violations of human rights. As a franchisor, all the hotels in our system are independently owned and operated and our brand rules and regulations require franchisees to comply with all local, state and federal laws.” — Choice Hotels International
“Red Lion Hotels condemns all forms of human trafficking. Through our participation with ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) and National Safe Place Network we offer support and training to our independently owned hotels on how to identify and report any such suspected activity.
“With our broad perspective as a franchise-focused company with minimal hotel ownership and no external hotel management services, we recognize that it is important to work with our independently owned hotel owners toward the eradication of human trafficking in hotels. We expect that the training we offer for our franchisees to deploy at their hotels will enhance the safety, enjoyment and comfort of their guests.” — Red Lion Hotels
“While we are not commenting on the specifics of the litigation, Marriott International is working to help combat the horrific crime of human trafficking in hotels. Marriott International developed training in partnership with leading human rights organizations to teach its hotel workers to recognize the signs of human trafficking and how to respond. The company made the training mandatory for all its hotel workers in 2017; to date more than 700,000 employees have completed the training.” — Marriott International
Shapiro says his client was not willingly participating in prostitution.
“What distinguishes human trafficking from prostitution is force, fraud or coercion,” he wrote. “If someone is subjected to threats and violence, they are not choosing to do that.”
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