NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A new lawsuit claims a North Little Rock motel turned a blind eye to sex trafficking, years after a judge declared the property a public nuisance over similar complaints.
The lawsuit is the second of its kind in Arkansas, trying to hold hotel owners and managers accountable for not trying to stop sex trafficking on the property.
The woman named as Jane Doe in the lawsuit claims she was forced to stay the former Motel 6 off W 29th Street starting in March 2019. The suit claims she was abused at the motel for half a year, and her cries for help were ignored by employees.
“They knew what was going on and profiting from it,” said Attorney Meredith Moore, who is representing Doe along with Lauren Manatt at Rainwater, Holt & Sexton. “She had visible injuries on her body that would have clued anyone that was paying a lick of attention that something wrong was going on.”
According to the lawsuit, there was a pattern of ignoring signs including when the woman would, “scream loudly and cry out for help” and even “asked them [managers] to call the police.”
The lawsuit goes on to say a “manager came to her room and advised he would handle it” but then her “trafficker went to the manager to pay the nightly rent and the police were never called.”
“You know this is happening, you need to step up to the plate,” Manatt said.
The owners were asked to do that in 2014 when the city of North Little Rock sued them, citing hundreds of police calls to the motel. A judge ruled the property was a public nuisance and gave it a list of things to fix including hiring new managers.
“In their website, they acknowledged in 2018 that they were going to start training their staff to identify sex trafficking,” Manatt added.
Court records show that case was closed in January 2020.
Lawyers say the lawsuit is about a bigger picture, trying to hold hotels accountable.
“It is necessary that they come on board,” Manatt said. “That they not only have these practices but follow them to help women.”
Calls to management have not been returned. An employee at the front desk says the motel is open. The property has been renamed but state records show it’s run by the same hospitality group.
Advocacy group, PATH, that helps sex trafficking victims and also does training for hotels, call these types of court cases key to helping stop hotels where human trafficking is happening.
“They’re just as guilty as the trafficker,” said Executive Director of PATH, Louise Allison. “There are other hotels that turn a blind eye to what’s going on and some are even participatory and get kickbacks.”