ATLANTA — A Newton County woman who says she was forced into prostitution is suing two Clayton County motels in federal court, alleging the businesses knew of the abuse.
The 34-page suit by “H.M.,” filed against Red Lion Hotels Corporation and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts LLC last Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, names America’s Best Value Inn, 6358 Old Dixie Road, and the now-defunct A Days Inn, 1599 Adamson Pkwy. in Morrow.
The suit alleges both parent corporations “know and have known for more than a decade that sex trafficking repeatedly occurs under their flag in this country,” but that “both RLH Corporation and Wyndham have instead chosen to ignore the open and obvious presence of sex trafficking on their properties, enjoying the profit from rooms rented for this explicit and apparent purpose.”
Attorney Neil Overholtz said, “The tragic story here is it wasn’t just that she was trafficked through these hotels, which is often the case, but that the traffic initiated right out of the hotel, which is really a serious danger for women of her age to be trafficked this way.”
The plaintiff, “H.M.,” alleges she was 25 when she was forced into sex trafficking at both the Morrow and Jonesboro motels. H.M. had left her abusive husband and completed rehab for heroin addiction, then “checked into the cheapest hotel she could find.” She argues a man called “Detroit” took advantage of her, forced her into the sex trade and beat her.
The suit claims Detroit or his lieutenants monitored H.M.’s every move, including her toilet use; withheld food and permission to shower; and confiscated her phone, ID, clothes and purse. H.M. alleges hotel staff saw her injuries from Detroit’s beatings but did nothing.
The suit also alleges that, “At the Days Inn, the front desk manager specifically offered to give H.M.’s trafficker his rooms for a discount in exchange for sex with H.M.” and that “H.M.’s captivity by Detroit was compounded by the fact that the manager of the Southside Inn (where she was allegedly held by Detroit) was a regular client of her trafficker that he always forced her to service.”
When H.M. tried to escape from the South Side Inn, the manager told her and Detroit to “take their issues out of the lobby.” She fled to the America’s Best Value Inn, where “the familiar front desk manager” also refused to let her use the phone. Finally, she fled to a third hotel and called her sister, who called the police and rescued her.
The South Side Inn is not named in the lawsuit.
The suit points out the industry’s longtime role in sex trafficking, citing various studies and listing signs that indicate sex trafficking:
♦ an excess of condoms in rooms
♦ individuals carrying or flashing large amounts of cash
♦ excessive amounts of cash stored in the room
♦ renting two rooms next door to each other
♦ declining room service for several consecutive days
♦ significant foot traffic in and out of rooms
♦ men traveling with multiple women who appear unrelated
♦ women known to be staying in rooms without leaving
♦ women displaying physical injuries or signs of fear and anxiety
♦ guests checking in with little or no luggage
♦ hotel guests who prevent another individual from speaking for themselves
♦ a guest controlling another’s identification
The city of Morrow Municipal Court shut down A Days Inn in 2016 after declaring it a public nuisance. Both Morrow Police and the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office had responded to about 120 criminal incidents at the Days Inn between December 2016 and July 2017, “including sex trafficking, pimping and prostitution, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, theft and drug possession.”
The News asked the manager on duty at America’s Best Value Inn Oct. 30, who identified himself only as “Kash,” whether he was aware of the federal lawsuit. He said he was not but that he would ask the motel’s owner to contact the News. Posted prominently behind the front desk was a fresh copy of the county’s Human Trafficking notice, which informs victims of their rights in both English and Spanish and refers them to the National Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline at (888) 373-7888.
The small hotels “fly under the brand flag,” Overholtz said, “so people assume that there’s going to be a safe place to stay, the booking goes through the brand, and yet, traffic can occur right there at a hotel that’s flying under a big national brand.”
The News attempted to reach both RLHC and Wyndham for comment before press time. An RLHC operator referred requests for comment to the company’s website. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts spokesman Joseph Contrino said, “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.”