Who are the traffickers?
The traffickers in hotel/motel based commercial sex situations are often individual controllers, more commonly known as “pimps”. These traffickers may vary in their relationship to the victim, but are similar in the tactics they employ to recruit, control and exploit their victims. Some traffickers may only be exploiting one or a couple victims, while others maintain control over a larger group of adults or minors.
Sex traffickers seek to develop dependencies between themselves and their victims by created a false sense of romantic relationship, or become a caretaker or father-figure. When multiple victims are working for the same controller, a sense of family becomes critical in the maintenance of the exploitative relationship. Traffickers use these relationship bonds to compel victims into providing commercial sex.
In some hotel/motel based commercial sex, the trafficker may not be taking on the role of an intimate partner or caretaker, but rather that of a business manager. Sex trafficking networks operating under the premise of an escort service may have a business manager who is responsible to for setting up dates, but who is also compelling victims to provide commercial sex against their will.
How is it advertised?
Commercial sex within hotels and motels are most frequently advertised through online platforms. Websites such as Backpage.com, Eros.com and others are used as a platform for advertising the women, men and youth engaged in commercial sex as well as a communication tool for setting up dates, times and locations. In many ways, the commercial sex industry has moved away from the street and public places and moved indoors, because of the anonymity online advertising offers.
Who are the victims?
Victims are typically U.S. citizens, including adults, girls, boys, and transgender youth. Although less common, immigrants may also be victimized. Commercial sex taking place within hotels and motels often maintains the most diverse range of victims, as the customer base for commercial sex in hotel and motels is as diverse as the general hotel customer base.
Human trafficking spans all victim demographics and the vulnerabilities traffickers exploit are unique and specific to each victim (e.g. a developmental disorder, past child abuse, cultural beliefs). However, the NHTRC sees recurring vulnerabilities among sex trafficking victims in fake massage businesses. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):
Homelessness: Runaway and homeless youth may be particularly at risk for sex trafficking. A study by Covenant House found that 48% of interviewed youth that had experienced sex trafficking had initially engaged in commercial sex because they did not have a place to stay. In addition, LGBTQ youth are disproportionately overrepresented in the number of minor sex trafficking victims (20-40 percent, compared 5-7 percent of the general youth population).
Prior Violence and Assault: Individuals who have experience prior sexual assault and violence may have increased risk of sex trafficking, according to a study by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Victims who experience repeated violent acts may unconsciously normalize victimization and/or be unable to see alternative possibilities. Victims of street based commercial sex are known to be vulnerable to violence and assault from buyers. Although victims of sex trafficking in street based commercial sex are commonly monitored by a trafficker, the trafficker is often less visible and therefore more difficult for police to investigate.
When does it become trafficking?
Commercial sex in hotels or motels becomes trafficking when a force, fraud or coercion is used to maintain control over the person providing commercial sexual services and cause the person to engage in commercial sex acts. An individual engaged in street prostitution under the age of 18 is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion. Common means of control include:
Force: Physical or sexual abuse, often in the form of repeated rapes by one or more people to create submission; confinement to the residence; restrictions on movement and communication to family and friends; forced abortions; lack of medical treatment or reproductive health.
Fraud: False promises of a better life through the trafficker presenting as a boyfriend or caretaker figure.
Coercion: Threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to his or her family and others in the community; confiscation of birth certificates and other identification documents; forced dependency on the trafficker; rumors of or witnessed violence at hands of traffickers used as threats; cycle of rewards and punishments; threats of police involvement and arrest; threats of deportation if victim is a foreign national.
* An individual under the age of 18 engaged in commercial sex is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.