LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas judge hands down a hefty judgment to a hotel for its part in a major sex trafficking case. Judge Doug Schrantz in Benton County ruled that OM Hospitality, Inc., which owns the Economy Inn in Springdale, must pay $25.4 million in damages.
According to court documents, from the summer of 2014 through July 2017, the victim was held by her trafficker at the Economy Inn on Sunset Street in Springdale and forced to perform sexual acts with men in exchange for money. The victim was between the ages of 14 and 17 years old during this time period. The documents also accused the trafficker of using manipulation, coercion and abuse.
Attorney Meredith Moore with Rainwater, Holt & Sexton represents the victim.
“The level of abuse that our client endured, I can’t even put into real words how traumatic it is,” Moore said.
According to Judge Schrantz’s court order, Economy Inn management would notify the victim’s trafficker if law enforcement was looking around and would advise the trafficker to move her down the street to another hotel until things quieted down. Motel cleaning staff was never allowed in the rooms where the victim and her trafficker were staying, according to court documents.
The court rendered a judgment of $25.4 million against OM Hospitality, including more than $19 million in punitive damages, which Moore explained is meant to punish the business for its wrongdoing. Rainwater, Holt & Sexton believed this is the largest verdict in the country against a single hotel for its role in a sex trafficking of a minor case.
“This judgment is to send a clear message to businesses in Arkansas that this won’t be tolerated and that we’re not going to allow young girls to be victimized like this,” Moore said. “It’s meant to send a message to other businesses similarly situated that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated and if you are doing this, you need to clean up your act because this is what you may be facing.”
Moore felt like the judge’s ruling empowered her client.
“The judge sort of echoed that and told her, listen, no amount of money is going to compensate you for what has been done to you, but essentially, men or anyone in power being in your life and not doing something about this ends today,” Moore said.
Moore also wants Arkansans to realize this case is not a situation of prostitution. She said her client was a true victim who did not receive a penny of the money and was in a really scary situation.
“Rainwater, Holt & Sexton has been working these cases for almost four years and I cannot go into a business here in Little Rock or in any part of Arkansas without looking for the signs of somebody being trafficked and that’s because I know how prevalent it is.”
Economy Inn did not respond to requests for comment.
Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith said this was a civil case because criminal cases of trafficking can be difficult.
“They’re very hard to prosecute and catch the people who are doing it, they are in one place one day and another the next,” Smith said.
Smith said going after the places where trafficking takes place is one of the best ways to get justice in these cases.
“If they’re deprived of a location then it gets harder and harder for them to operate and thus easier to catch them when they’re doing it,” Smith said.
Moore said she believes the victim will be pursuing a criminal investigation as well. Moore also said she is working on another case against the Royal Inn, where she said the victim was also trafficked.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, someone may be experiencing sex trafficking if they:
- Want to stop participating in commercial sex but feel scared or unable to leave the situation.
- Disclose that they were reluctant to engage in commercial sex but that someone pressured them into it.
- Live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace.
- Are children who live with or are dependent on a family member with a substance use problem or who is abusive.
- Have a “pimp” or “manager” in the commercial sex industry.
- Work in an industry where it may be common to be pressured into performing sex acts for money, such as a strip club, illicit cantina, go-go bar, or illicit massage business.
- Have a controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone or who monitors their movements, spending, or communications.
If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking or may have information about a potential trafficking situation, call the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.