A former Maine woman says she was the victim of sex trafficking that began in Portland-area hotels when she was a minor, and she has sued two national chains for failing to prevent or stop trafficking in their hotels across the country.

Her complaint is part of a wave of similar cases across the country, and it could be consolidated with lawsuits from victims in other states. The woman, who is only identified as R.T. in court documents, appears to be the first person to file a related case in Maine. But one lawyer who is coordinating the nationwide effort told the Associated Press in December that as many as 7,000 victims could be part of the legal fight.

“For years, sex trafficking ventures have brazenly operated in and out of hotels throughout this country,” the complaint says. “Criminals parade their misconduct openly on hotel properties throughout the United States while the hotels and hospitality industry continues to neglect the criminal misconduct to continue earning a profit at the expense of human life, human rights, and human dignity.”

The lawsuit also says that “the hospitality industry plays a crucial role in the sex trade. The trope of the ‘no-tell’ hotel is certainly not a new one. Hotels have long profited from their reputations as havens of privacy and discretion for the offending. Hotels offer anonymity and non-traceability, making them ideal venues for crime and sex trafficking in particular.”

The lawsuit was first reported by the Bangor Daily News. The woman now lives in Florida, but she filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court of Portland. She sued two chains – Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Inc. and G6 Hospitality LLC – that own or previously owned four local hotels. While not commenting on the lawsuits, the two hotel chains have released statements.

“We condemn human trafficking in any form,” said Wyndham Hotels & Resorts President and Chief Executive Officer Geoff Ballotti in a statement. “In recognition of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we want to reinforce our partnerships with Polaris and other important anti-trafficking organizations, while continuing to educate the hospitality community on how to help identify and report trafficking activities.”

According to a G6 Hospitality statement, “G6 condemns trafficking in all forms and requires all locations to complete training on how to identify and report suspicions of trafficking on property. We partner with non-profits, industry associations and law enforcement to battle this global societal problem.”

The specific Portland-area locations where she says she was trafficked are the Knights Inn, Travelodge, Howard Johnson and Motel 6. The Knights Inn and Travelodge have since closed. The lawsuit accuses the hotels and their owners of benefitting financially from sex trafficking by knowingly or negligently allowing those activities to continue.

The complaint says R.T. was a minor in 2006 when she met her first trafficker, who sold her to his friends in exchange for drugs. That same year, she met her second trafficker, who built her drug addiction and used it as leverage. From approximately 2009 to 2015, she said she experienced sexual assault, physical and verbal abuse, psychological torment and false imprisonment at the four hotels.

The lawsuit described the way the trafficker posted online ads and sold her to two to seven people every night. It also described the tactics used at the hotels, such as requesting rooms farthest from the lobby and booking rooms with cash or prepaid credit cards.

“The Plaintiff encountered the same hotel staff over the course of the time she was trafficked for sex at the Defendant hotel properties,” the complaint states. “Hotel staff ignored R.T. and did nothing to prevent the ongoing torture she endured while she was regularly trafficked for sex at Defendants’ hotel properties.”

The woman is seeking unspecified financial damages.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association launched a new national campaign last summer to train hotel employees to recognize and report instances of human trafficking.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888. For more information, www.humantraffickinghotline.org.

 

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