Human Trafficking & the Hospitality Industry Expert Article

Human trafficking is the third largest criminal activity in the world. The U.S. Department of State estimates there are tens of millions of people worldwide being trafficked, generating over $150 billion in illegal profits, with two-thirds coming from sex exploitation.

In this article, police practices and premises security expert Michael Gerard examines the prevalence of human trafficking in hotels, motels, and massage establishments. Insight on how property owners, managers and staff of these establishments can identify victims and implement measures to combat this issue is examined. During his law enforcement career, Mr. Gerard led a team which was charged with recovering victims, and investigating and prosecuting human traffickers. He was also responsible for developing and implementing programs in hotels, motels and massage establishments which addressed the crime of human trafficking in these establishments.

human trafficking expert witness

Human Trafficking & the Hospitality Industry - Expert Article

Human Trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Human Trafficking happens in all 50 states, with sex trafficking being the most prevalent form. There is no single profile of a victim of human trafficking. They can be any age, gender, race, or immigration status and come from any socioeconomic background. Human traffickers seek out vulnerable populations, such as those with psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, or a history of physical or mental abuse.

Commercial sex in hotels and motels

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, a national anti-trafficking hotline serving victims and survivors, the victims are typically U.S. citizens, including adults, girls, boys, and transgender youth. Commercial sex traffickers often rely on legitimate businesses to further their illegal operations. Hotels, motels and massage establishments are often selected by traffickers to conduct their illegal activities. Commercial sex taking place within hotels and motels often reveals a diverse range of victims.

Hotel and motel owners may not be aware that their businesses are being used to facilitate these crimes. Organizations such as the Polaris Project, a leading organization in the fight against human trafficking, and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), partner with organizations such as the American Hotel and Lodging Association to provide awareness, training and guidance to the hospitality industry on commercial sex trafficking.

Combating commercial sex trafficking involves a collaborative, multi-agency approach from law enforcement, victim advocacy organizations and the hospitality industry. The following are recommendations put forth by both law enforcement agencies and the hospitality industry to address commercial sex trafficking in hotels and motels.

  • The facility should form a partnership with local, state and/or federal law enforcement.
  • Business owners should adopt anti-human trafficking policies.
  • Establish a safe reporting mechanism for employees.
  • Train all employees on the signs of human trafficking and how to respond.

Hotel staff, including front desk, cleaning and security personnel are often the first to encounter a potential victim and are positioned to observe suspicious behaviors indicative of human trafficking. The following are behaviors often associated with trafficking in hotels and motels.

  • Pays for a room in cash or with pre-paid card.
  • Consistent visits from different men to a single guestroom.
  • Men frequently waiting in cars in the parking lot.
  • Trafficker and victim stay for extended periods with few possessions.
  • The trafficker requests a room overlooking the parking lot.
  • Presence of excessive drugs, alcohol, sex paraphernalia in the room.
  • Excessive foot traffic in/out of hotel room.
  • Victim not in possession of their own ID.
  • The victim exhibits fearful, anxious, or submissive behavior.
  • The victim has little freedom of movement and is constantly monitored by the trafficker.

Commercial sex in massage establishments

The Polaris Project estimates there are over 9,000 illicit massage businesses operating in the U.S. These establishments can be found in any community and to the untrained eye may have the appearance of legitimate businesses. Evidence suggests many of the women engaging in commercial sex in these establishments are victims of human trafficking. Indicators of illicit establishments may include:

  • Primarily male clientele.
  • Women appear to be living in the establishment.
  • Massage prices below market.
  • Locked front door and covered windows.
  • The business and masseuse are not properly licensed.

Illicit massage establishment operations should be addressed at both the public and private levels, with law enforcement and local government, as well as property management and property owners. This can be accomplished by the adoption and enforcement of laws and regulations by state and local governments, to ensure the health and safety of both employees and customers. Laws and ordinances addressing business licensing and health standards have proven effective in the enforcement efforts related to illicit massage establishments.

The primary goal of human trafficking investigations by law enforcement is the recovery of the victims. Several states have adopted laws to address human trafficking by imposing both criminal and civil sanctions. By collaborating with law enforcement, adopting anti-human trafficking policies, and providing training to staff, the hospitality industry can proactively combat human trafficking.

Human Trafficking Forensic Investigations

In forensic investigations that involve Human Trafficking, our experts are typically tasked with evaluating the actions, policies, and procedures of the businesses and property managers. If trafficking took place on their premises, it is important to understand the history of similar incidents in that community and if reasonable and appropriate measures were in place. The Police Practices and Premises Security experts at Robson Forensic come from long and diverse careers in law enforcement, where they were involved in the creation, implementation, and training on anti-human trafficking practices.

For more information, contact the author of this article or submit an inquiry.

Featured Expert

Michael Gerard, Police Practices & Premises Security Expert

Michael Gerard

Police Practices & Premises Security Expert
Michael Gerard is a police practices and premises security expert with over 26 years of law enforcement and security experience. As an expert witness, Mike applies his expertise to forensic casework… read more.


View All Articles

Hotel Security

By Robson Forensic
Expert Article

In this article, the premises security experts discuss some of the most important aspects of premises security in the hospitality industry. I. Patronage of the Hotel Industry Hotels invite patrons…

Lone Officer & Team Response to an Active Shooter in a School

By Michael Gerard
Expert Article

In this article, police practices and procedures expert Michael Gerard discusses the evolution of law enforcement procedures in active shooter situations at schools in the years following the…