Human traffickers profit off Southwest Florida hotel rooms

Published: Updated:

For many people, staying in a hotel may conjure up thoughts of vacation, luxury and even room service. But for others, it may unleash memories of a painful past: Florida accounted for over 5% of all human trafficking calls into the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2021.

The second most-used venues for trafficking were illicit spas and massage businesses. The first? Hotels and motels.

Hotels sued

Our community is no exception. About two dozen Collier County hotels were sued in 2020, accused of allowing sex trafficking on their premises.

WINK News anchor Rachel Cox-Rosen sat down with one survivor who was sex trafficked for years by people she knew and trusted. We will not identify her.

Survivor story

“It destroyed me. My first trafficker introduced me to the needle and shooting, so I started shooting meth,” she said. “That took me to places I never ever dreamed of, and I went down into a really deep black hole. I got to the point where I couldn’t make sense of my reality. I thought it was me. I thought that I was literally going insane. I was… I tried to take my life numerous times.”

She spent time trapped in her own mind, in abusive, manipulative relationships, and she said, in hotels where nobody helped her.

In the end, she saved herself. “Like some kind of weird survival came over me, and I somehow learned how to manipulate my manipulator. I ran for my life,” she added.

It’s the law

A 2019 Florida law says it’s not supposed to be up to the victim. Hotels should look out for trafficking. They’re required to put up anti-human trafficking signage, train employees to spot signs of trafficking and have a plan in place if it is discovered. If not, they face fines.

Out of the 2023 Legislative session – a new law cracks down on hotels not following the rules – cutting the time to get back in compliance in half – and not allowing any second chances before fines.

Linda Oberhaus is CEO of The Shelter for Abused Women and Children. She added, “Hotels and motels, they can save lives, and they can save victims years of trauma that they might otherwise experience.”

Getting help

Oberhaus went on to explain, “They can get very structured services with the staff, therapeutic services, life skills, anything they need to be able to work through the trauma that has occurred and have the skills they need to get back on their feet.”

The trauma the survivor Rachel met is working through her experience with the help of the shelter.

“I’m becoming stronger on the inside,” she said, “and, you know, that way, I don’t ever have to live my life like this again. There’s no going back for me.”


Below are anti-human trafficking and mental health resources available to Southwest Floridians at the national and local levels:

  • The Shelter for Abused Women & Children:
  • 1 (888) 373-7888 National Human Trafficking Hotline SMS: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”) Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week Languages: English, Spanish and 200 more languages Website:

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