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Friday March 24, 2017

Philadelphia teen sues motel where she was 'sold into sexual slavery'

A Philadelphia teenager is suing the hotel where she was confined to a room and forced to perform sexual acts on dozens of men when she was just 14. 

The men who trafficked her have all been convicted, but now she wants the Roosevelt Inn to pay, her lawyer Nadeem Beza told As It Happens host Carol Off

"The tenure at the hotel went on for days and weeks at a time," Bezar said. "She was not able to leave the hotel. There were threats if she left the hotel."

It is the first ever lawsuit launched under a 2014 Pennsylvania statute that allows child sex trafficking victims pursue civil claims "against any person that participated" the trafficking. Bezar calls it "an important tool" for stamping out or reducing the sexual exploitation of children.

The lawsuit claims the now 17-year-old girl, identified only as M.B., was estranged from her family and living on the streets when she was "sold into sexual slavery" at the Philadelphia motel. 

The suit alleges the staff of the Roosevelt Inn, which has been the site of numerous human trafficking cases, knew what was happening to M.B. and did nothing to stop it.

The allegations have not been proven in court and neither the hotel nor the company that owns it responded to As It Happens' requests for comment. 

'We just rent the room'

The motel's resident manager, Yagna Patel, is also named in the suit. He told The Philadelphia Inquirer he wasn't aware of any minors being abused on the premises.

"We just rent the room and that's all we can do," Patel said. 

But if the lawsuit is successful, Bezar says that defence will no longer fly. 

"I think the message is pretty clear and that is, if you're going to run this type of business, make sure you have some idea of what's occurring in your hallways and, if you know of this type of illegal activity, particularly involving children, you better do something about it."

History of criminal activity 

Assistant District Attorney Erin O'Brien told The Inquirer that the Roosevelt Inn is a hotbed of prostitution and human trafficking. The newspaper lists several people who have been convicted of trafficking out of the Roosevelt over the last few years. 

For that reason, Bezar said it's possible other victims could join the lawsuit.

But for now, he says, the focus is on seeking justice for M.B., who has since been reunited with her family and is in therapy. 

"Her life has been forever altered. She is just absolutely devastated by what happened to her and, at the same time, she is trying to get her life moving a certain direction."