In the first civil lawsuit under the Pennsylvania human trafficking statute, a hotel in Northeast Philadelphia has been accused of providing rooms to human traffickers. The statute establishes that businesses that directly or indirectly benefit from human trafficking can be forced to pay compensation to victims. A person commits an offense if the person knowingly traffics or knowingly attempts to traffic another person, knowing that the other person will be subjected to forced labor or services.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a 17-year-old girl in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, accuses the hotel of knowingly and regularly providing rooms to her traffickers in 2013 and 2014, starting when the girl was just 14 years old.

According to the suit, the traffickers put ads on the internet for the purpose of prostituting the plaintiff. The suit alleges that the advertisements included a fake name and a phone number to call in order to negotiate a price for sex. Callers would allegedly be directed to a man at the front desk of the defendant hotel, who would provide the room where the girl and her traffickers were located. The suit contends that the girl was forced to perform sexual acts and that the motel — for its own financial gain — regularly provided rooms to her traffickers. The suit alleges that defendants knew or had constructive knowledge that the girl was being sexually exploited. The suit claims that the defendants caused the girl to suffer physical harm, mental anguish, humiliation, exploitation and degradation, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

According to a federally funded research report, harsher criminal penalties do not increase arrests and prosecutions for human trafficking. A comprehensive legislative approach may be more successful. Civil human trafficking statutes, establishing civil penalties and the right to restitution, may play an integral part in curbing human trafficking. By enacting both criminal and civil statutes addressing human trafficking, a state prioritizes both prosecuting the criminals and remedying the harm to victims. In addition, victims may be more apt to cooperate with law enforcement if the law allows them to seek compensatory or punitive damages.

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