Sex Trafficking in South Carolina: Are Hotels Complicit?

This video features S. Randall "Randy" Hood, a Medical Malpractice attorney based in South Carolina.

Injury Attorney Explains The Problem and Offers Options for Victims

Video Transcript:

Randy Hood:

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that something bad is going on.

Rob Rosenthal:

So how is sex trafficking tied to the hospitality industry, and just how bad is it? We're going to find out right now because that's what we're going to ask the lawyer. Hi again, everybody, I'm Rob Rosenthal with askthelawyers.com and my guest is someone who's had a lot of experience representing victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking, South Carolina attorney Randy Hood. I want to remind you, if you want to ask questions about your specific situation, head over to askthelawyers.com, click on the button at the top of the screen that says, “Ask a Lawyer”, and you can do it right there.

Randy, thank you for joining us and answering our questions today. I appreciate it.

Randy Hood:

Thank you, Rob. I hope you will.

Rob Rosenthal:

So let's just talk about sex trafficking and specifically your experience in South Carolina. How big of an issue is that in South Carolina these days?

Randy Hood:

It's a huge issue. It's a huge issue worldwide; it’s a huge issue nationwide; and it’s a huge issue here in South Carolina. I think it is endemic, and it is particularly prevalent in areas that are high tourist locations. I think that traffickers identify that people are coming in from out of town, that there is a large population at certain times, and they identify certain areas and then they move their victims into these specific areas. In South Carolina the two hardest hit counties for this scourge are Charleston County, South Carolina and Horry County, South Carolina, which happen to be the two most popular tourist destinations in South Carolina—Myrtle Beach and Charleston.

Rob Rosenthal:

Maybe it would be helpful to have just a little bit of a definition. What are we talking about when we talk about sex trafficking as far as the law is concerned?

Randy Hood:

I think sex trafficking is really misunderstood. You can have sex trafficking with just one person one time; you can have sex trafficking where it could be someone that she considers herself to be the girlfriend of someone. But essentially it's the exchange of services against someone's will and that “against someone's will” part could be coercion, could be abuse, violence, facilitation through the provision of drugs or alcohol or even food or a place to sleep, and where there's any type of coercion involved, when there is an exchange of sex with coercion, then it falls within the realm of sex trafficking.

Most people think of it as, you know, someone snatched off the street, but in fact 60% of all traffickers are people that know the victim, and know them well. It could be their boyfriend; it could be a family member. It could be their father, their mother, their brother, or their neighbor. It could be anyone, but chances are the majority of time they know their trafficker before they become a trafficking victim.

Rob Rosenthal:

We started off by talking about the hospitality industry and how it fits into this. Explain that for us.

Randy Hood:

Well, the hospitality industry has known for a very long time that there has to be a place where the sexual acts take place. It usually doesn't happen in someone's home. It usually doesn't happen in a car. It's usually in a place where there is a bed and there is some modicum of privacy. The one place where that happens more than any other is at a hotel or a motel. It has become such a known thing that IHG in 2013 did a study on sex trafficking in the hospitality industry; they created certain recommendations about things they would put someone on alert that there was a situation going on, that there may be sex trafficking going on in their particular facility.

Rob Rosenthal:

Is this a situation in your experience, Randy, that they know what's going on and they just turn a blind eye, or they don't want to deal with it? Are they benefiting from this somehow? Help me out.

Randy Hood:

Rob, the way I look at it is this: the good Lord gave us a brain to think, and in a situation in the hospitality industry, they have employees, they have front front door staff people who are manning the desk where you check in, they have housekeepers, they have managers, they have other employees who see things that go on at the hotel. There are certain red flag signals that every hotel is aware would be an indicator that sex trafficking is going on.

When you see an older man and a very young girl come into the hotel, a red flag should go up. When they request for housekeeping to cease services for periods of days, that's a sign. When they ask for rooms beside an exit door, that's a sign. When you see multiple men come into a hotel and go to the same room over and over and over for a period of days, that is an indicator. When you see someone that pays cash for a room, that's an indicator. Each one of these by themselves may be innocuous, but when you see one or two, when you see a couple together or three together, and you start seeing a pattern of activity, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that something bad is going on. The really, really bad part about this is it's preventable. If someone would simply pick up the phone and call the police and say, “I think someone is being coerced or held against their will.” Then people may be able to be rescued.

The problem that happens, and this is a terrible, terrible thing, but many of these women, sometimes men, but mostly women or even children, they may be homeless; they may be drug dependent; they may be alcohol-dependent; they may need food. So it could be something where in order to eat, in order to simply be able to eat, they're being forced to do these acts so that they can literally live or else they're on the street. So sometimes, you know, we talk about them being a sex trafficking victim, and they are absolutely a victim, but sometimes people aren't as empathetic with these folks because sometimes there's drug addiction involved, sometimes there's an alcohol addiction involved, and yet these are people who are in a circumstance that they don't want to be in, and they're being forced to do terrible, terrible things in exchange for the ability to either get a drug or alcohol, or food or a place to live, and they don't make any of the money. All the money goes to the trafficker; they simply provide them with food and a place to at least put their head at night, and a lot of times it's under the guise of a boyfriend, but most of the time it involves physical and emotional abuse.

Rob Rosenthal:

So many questions are being raised now, Randy. Why would these facilities not make that phone call that you're talking about? Is it just because they're making money?

Randy Hood:

They're making money. It's the root of all evil. And sometimes it's mostly money, but there may be people that are just like, “I just don't want to get involved. I don't want to be part of this because there's fear involved.” And I think at some point the hospitality industry must train people so that they're aware of all of the indicators that would seem to show that someone is there either against her will or with coercion, and they need to make people aware and create a system where people don't fall through the cracks. If somebody does pick up the phone, then you're hopeful that law enforcement will come by, and it doesn't even mean that law enforcement is going to come there and arrest someone because people can leave and get away. But if a hotel refuses to facilitate this specific type of action, then they have to go somewhere else. And if everybody closes the door, it stops. Unfortunately because of greed and fear and the refusal to do the right thing, it will probably continue to flourish.

Rob Rosenthal:

It would seem that for the victims in these situations to get help and to make that step to contact a personal injury attorney like yourself, that's got to be a difficult step for them. What's your recommendation? How do they get help? And why would they contact a personal injury attorney?

Randy Hood:

I think there's a lot of things. The first thing they should do, honestly, is call the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a place that will give them information about services that are available to them for immediate assistance. We do absolutely get involved, but we may not be the first call—we may be the first call, because I've had cases where I've contacted law enforcement to have someone extracted from a trafficking situation, and I was on the phone with them, and we were going back and forth and setting up a meet so that this person could meet them in a grocery store and they could literally take this person from a grocery store directly into their car and take her to the hospital. Now, while I'm going back and forth over a period of three or four hours, we're making phone calls back and forth to make sure that this person is safe.

So they can contact a PI attorney, the National Human Trafficking Hotline; they can contact a local sex abuse shelter or resource center; they've got them in literally every county in South Carolina, or there may be one for every two or three counties, but if you look up sex abuse, South Carolina, you're going to see some of these resources that are available. But when they do come to a personal injury attorney, sometimes they want to speak to a female; they don't want to speak to a man because many times a man has been the trafficker. These are people that have suffered from years of sex abuse; they may have been sexually abused in their youth, and it's usually a man, it's almost always a man that's involved in that. They don't want a male presence because that is the person that is the genesis of all of the problems that they're having. Sometimes they want to speak to a female. So we have female attorneys.

Our firm has female attorneys who are engaged in this area of law who can assist them. If they do speak to a man, obviously, I've been doing this and I do this, and I can try to help them in some way. The most important thing, I think, is to get them extracted from the situation they're in. Because if they are a drug addict or they're alcohol-dependent, or they don't have a place to sleep or they don't have food, you need to get them basic human services to be able to live. Many times, the only way for them to live and to have things that are necessary for life, is through their trafficker because they have fallen into such hard times; family may have turned their back on them; society has certainly turned their back on them. So there are very little resources available, and yet they are there, they can be accessed. So it's important for them to learn who to reach out to and how to get these resources to actually get out of the situation they're in, because if they remain in a human trafficking or a sex trafficking situation, they're going to have a very short life.

Rob Rosenthal:

Has it happened—and I'm hoping it has it—when you've taken on some of these victims as clients, is there a possibility that you can try to recover damages from the hotels or motels? It would seem like if they feel like the monetary loss could be bigger than what they're going to gain by turning a blind eye, that maybe that could make a difference.

Randy Hood:

Well, there are different causes of action that we have available to us from a legal standpoint. There's federal law, and there’s state law in South Carolina—it may not be in every state—but in South Carolina we have a sex trafficking statute; and we have the ability to use that statute and the Federal trafficking statute to be able to help these women escape their situation, but also to sue the person or persons or entities who are responsible, or who helped facilitate the situation, to get them some type of compensation for the harm that they have suffered.

Rob Rosenthal:

Fascinating conversation, Randy. I've already learned so much from you. Thank you for making some time to answer our questions.

Randy Hood:

Thank you, Rob.

Rob Rosenthal:

That's going to do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyer. My guest has been South Carolina attorney Randy Hood. Remember, if you'd like to ask questions about your specific situation, go to askthelawyers.com and there's a button at the top of the screen that says “Ask a Lawyer”; you can ask away right there.

Thanks for watching. I'm Rob Rosenthal with AskTheLawyers™.

Disclaimer: This video is for informational purposes only. In some states, this video may be deemed Attorney Advertising. The choice of lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

AskTheLawyers

© 1999-2022 AskTheLawyers.com™

Terms and Conditions / Privacy Policy /
Report an Issue

Legal Disclaimer: This website is for informational purposes only. Use of this website does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Information entered on this website is not confidential. This website has paid attorney advertising. Anyone choosing a lawyer must do their own independent research. By using this website, you agree to our additional Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.