Truck stops named in sex trafficking lawsuit

January 31, 2018

Mark Schremmer

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An unnamed woman has filed a lawsuit against a website, as well as several Houston-area hotels and truck stops, alleging that the companies benefited from her being sexually exploited.

The plaintiff, referred to as Jane Doe No. 1, filed the civil case against Backpage.com, Hyatt Hotels Corp., Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores, Pilot Travel Centers, TravelCenters of America, and several other businesses on Jan. 23 in Harris County, Texas. The 82-page lawsuit alleges that the businesses benefited from the sexual exploitation of a human trafficking survivor (Doe) in violation of an anti-trafficking law passed in 2009, and other state laws.

According to the lawsuit, Doe began to be exploited as a 15-year-old in 2014 and 2015 at Houston-area hotels and truck stops through the use of “sanitized” Backpage advertisements that “conceal child human trafficking.”

“Sex trafficking of minors has exploded in the last decade as a result of the internet marketplace of sexual assault and sexual exploitation created by the Backpage defendants,” the petition said. “The truck stop defendants knowingly benefitted from the trafficking and sexual exploitation of Jane Doe No. 1, as well as the sexual exploitation of other children. Human trafficking and the sexual exploitation is a rampant and known problem in the hotel industry.”

Doe is seeking monetary relief of more than $1 million.

“We hope this lawsuit will help force the hotel and truck stop industries to adopt effective anti-trafficking policies, train their staffs to recognize illicit activity and establish safe and secure human trafficking reporting systems,” said David E. Harris, an attorney for Doe.

According to the lawsuit, the truck stops participated in the facilitation of trafficking minors by failing to implement proper training and security measures to prevent human trafficking.

Kealey Dorian, a spokeswoman for Love’s, said “Love’s Travel Stops takes these matters seriously, and we are reviewing the lawsuit.”

Pilot spokeswoman Stephanie Myers said “Pilot Flying J just received details of the lawsuit. We take these allegations seriously and will review them thoroughly. We have long supported organizations like Truckers Against Trafficking. We are committed to the safety and security of all our team members and guests.”

TravelCenters of America wasn’t able to be immediately reached for comment.

Truckers Against Trafficking confirmed on Wednesday that all three companies are partners with the organization, which trains workers in the trucking industry to detect the signs of human trafficking. In addition, Love’s and TravelCenters of America are gold- and bronze-level corporate sponsors of TAT, respectively.

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.