A first-of-its-kind lawsuit claims a host of Houston businesses turned a blind eye to sex trafficking.
“It’s pretty serious,” said attorney Annie McAdams.
McAdams and a colleague filed the 82-page civil suit on behalf of a 19-year-old sex trafficking victim, known only as “Jane Doe No. 1” to protect her identity.
“She is still in recovery and is in active intensive treatment,” McAdams said.
The lawsuit claims Jane Doe was lured into the sex trade before her 16th birthday via backpage.com. It claims she was then exploited at truck stops, motels and even the downtown Houston Hyatt Regency.
All of the businesses looked the other way, according to the lawsuit.
“This is basically the first of its kind to say, if you’re a business operating in Houston, or the state of Texas, for that matter, and you are knowingly profiting off human trafficking or failing to protect our children,” McAdams said. “That you are going to have to answer to us.”
“We’re so glad to see this action’s being brought,” said Jamey Caruthers with advocacy group Children At Risk.
The group helped pass the law allowing companies to be held civilly liable if they knowingly profit from human or sex trafficking.
“The people who are really paying for that are the victims who are going unnoticed, the pimps who are going unremarked upon, and the business continues as usual,” Caruthers said.
Businesses named in the lawsuit will be hit where it hurts if it is successful. Right now, it’s seeking more than a million dollars in damages.
“Law enforcement has done a tremendous job in fighting human trafficking, but their means are limited,” McAdams said. “And (to) do this is a really great opportunity for the civil justice system to stand next to law enforcement and fight this problem.”
Additional lawsuits could be filed on behalf of other women or men.
Meanwhile, KHOU 11 News reached out to all of the companies named in the suit. Hyatt does not comment on pending litigation. The others have yet to respond.