Big Win in Fight For Survivors of Sex Trafficking

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A Great Order in a Federal Sex Trafficking Lawsuit

A federal court in Pennsylvania recently decided to deny Marriott International's motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit brought by a survivor. This decision helps survivors all around the country, including those in Jacksonville, Florida who may want to pursue a civil claim against the hotels and establishments that profited from their sex trafficking. 

Basically, Marriott argued that they did not have knowledge the trafficking was taking place and they were just a franchisor of the hotels and therefore they could not be held liable for what took place. The Court ruled that Marriott did not have to directly know and that the federal statute only requires they "should have known". 

This decision allows for the lawsuit to continue against the deepest pockets and move towards a possibly more substantial recovery for the survivor

Section 1595 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Approximately twelve years ago, Congress added language to its prohibition on sex trafficking law allowing victims to seek a monetary remedy from a person or legitimate business which knowingly benefited, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participating in a venture which it knew or should have known engaged in sex trafficking. In the last several months, sex trafficking victims have filed over twenty cases around the country against hotels.

Section 1595 provides a civil remedy to victims of sex trafficking: An individual who is a victim of a violation of this chapter may bring a civil action against the perpetrator (or whoever knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture which that person knew or should have known has engaged in an act in violation of this chapter) in an appropriate district court of the United States and may recover damages and reasonable attorney's fees.

The Survivors Story

The survivor, A.B., sued under both the federal law and Pennsylvania’s human trafficking statute which requires knowledge. Marriott is the franchisor; it does not own these three hotels. Marriott moved to dismiss arguing the sex trafficking laws cannot, as a matter of law, apply to it. The Court agreed A.B. did not plead facts after two attempts allowing them  to reasonably infer Marriott knew of sex trafficking victimizing her. But A.B. sufficiently plead specific facts from which the Court can reasonably infer Marriott, under an actual agency theory subject to discovery, knowingly benefited from participating in a venture which it should have known engaged in her trafficking. This is all Congress requires a victim to plead

Between 2009 and 2011, her traffickers forced her into in calls at the three Marriott owned Philadelphia Airport hotels by as many as six men an evening. Each man entered and exited rooms at the three Philadelphia Airport hotels, and a constant stream of male visitors went to her room straight from the main lobby and front doors so that the foot traffic was both voluminous and obvious. Her traffickers frequently paid for rooms at all three hotels for at least a week at a time with a prepaid credit card and hotel staff were aware of A.B.’s presence there. A.B.’s traffickers brought her to each hotel with little, if any, luggage and she did not have a phone, wallet, or any form of identification.The hotel rooms where she performed commercial sex acts “were littered with multiple broken objects, used condoms, and other sex paraphernalia left behind in the rooms.” The staff at each of the three hotels saw signs of her visible injury and were aware of frequent “loud altercations” as well as “constant” attacks on her by her trafficker loud enough for staff and hotel patrons to hear.

Her trafficker continued to force her into commercial sex for five years. A.B. claims Marriott through hotel video surveillance and complaints regarding suspicious activity had actual or constructive notice of drug dealing, prostitution, “and/or general safety concerns at its hotels. If Marriott paid attention to these activities at its hotels, including the red flags surrounding A.B.’s trafficking, she believes it would have been impossible for them not to notice her victimization.

What Does This Mean for Survivors of Sex Trafficking in Florida?

It means there is hope that all those who profited from your abuse can be held accountable. There is movement happening right now in the country. Survivors are filing more lawsuits under federal law against the hotels, clubs and establishments that turned the other way or openly ignored or promoted sex trafficking. There is a way for survivors to seek a financial recovery that will help them move forward and build a better life. 

Read the entire order in A.B. v. Marriott International, Inc. 

Questions on Your Rights as a Survivor of Trafficking, Rape or Sexual Abuse?

Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.

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