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Sex trafficking is an international, profitable and heinous criminal enterprise that brings in billions of dollars annually at the physical and emotional expense of its victims. As awareness of sex and human trafficking rises throughout the country, everyone has a responsibility to report individuals they believe are exploiting others or being exploited themselves.

Hospitality workers in particular have a special insight into spotting signs of sex trafficking, as they tend to visit the same hotels and motels over and over. In fact, the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force and the South Carolina Beer Wholesalers Association announced a partnership in 2019 to train their delivery people in recognizing and reporting suspected trafficking.

We know that victims can take legal action against the person or people who assaulted them, but is anyone else liable for their harm and injuries? What protections are afforded to victims of human trafficking under the law?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act

A lawsuit brought under the federal law known as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) recently brought one sex trafficking survivor the justice and closure she was searching for.

Lisa Ricchio told NPR how, in 2011, she received a call from a man she knew asking her to come help him after a medical procedure. He then held her against her will for several days in a Florida hotel, committing sexual and physical assault with the goal of forcing her into prostitution. In her lawsuit, Ricchio claimed that motel employees witnessed her “in distress” at least twice, but failed to intervene or contact authorities. Further, she claimed the motel knowingly financially benefited from the criminal activity occurring on their premises.

This lawsuit is thought to be the first filed against a hotel or motel for its role in a sex trafficking crime. Ricchio’s case settled in late 2019 with an undisclosed financial settlement. Says Ricchio, “Even if I can just change, change the outcome for even one person, just to prevent everything I went through, it’s worth it to me.”

Ricchio filed suit in 2015 under the TVPA, which was enacted in 2000 and last reauthorized in 2019. The TVPA is the first comprehensive and federal law to address human and sex trafficking. It provides a three-point strategy for approaching this international crime, using prevention, protection, and prosecution. The TVPA:

  • Strengthens prevention efforts by authorizing the U.S. to help other countries create programs and opportunities through research and assistance
  • Provides protection, benefits and services to victims regardless of visa status and may allow eligibility to become lawful permanent residents
  • Bolsters efforts to prosecute traffickers, broaden criminal definition of trafficking and strengthen penalties

Additionally, the TVPA allows both individuals and entities to be found guilty of human trafficking. This means a hotel or motel, like the one in which Ricchio was held captive, could be found liable if they ignored clear signs of trafficking under premises liability law. Holding these types of entities responsible in addition to the actual assaulter puts the hospitality industry under the spotlight, and gives them an incentive to join the fight against human trafficking.

You may contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or text “help” to 233733 if you are a victim or suspect human trafficking is happening in your community.

If you or someone you love has been a victim of sex trafficking, the attorneys at McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC want to help. We are compassionate and pledge to work to pursue justice on your behalf. If you prefer speaking with a female attorney, just let us know and we’ll arrange it for you. Call us at 803-327-7800 or reach out to us through our contact page. We maintain offices throughout South Carolina.