SPRINGDALE, Ark. — A Benton County judge found that the former owners of a Springdale motel helped facilitate the trafficking of a teenage girl.
OM Hospitality, Inc., which owned the Economy Inn until August 2018, has been ordered to pay a total of $25 million for not stopping the girl's trafficking within the motel for three years, according to court documents.
The survivor's attorney says she believes this is one of the largest judgments for a case specifically filed against an individual, hotel or motel.
A hearing was held on July 15 in Benton County where the defendant, OM Hospitality, Inc. did not appear.
According to the ruling signed last week, the woman, referred to as "Jane Doe" in court documents, was trafficked between the Economy Inn on Sunset Avenue and another motel down the street between the summer of 2014 to July 2017 when she was a teenager.
“Often [she was] being picked up from school by her trafficker, picked up from her foster family, and really subjected to awful abuse. Not just the sex trafficking— having to service many customers a day at these motels for sex trafficking— but also lots of abuse by her trafficker,” said Meredith Moore, Jane Doe's lawyer.
Moore says the facts of this case are some of the worst she’s heard from any client or witness. She says the motel owners and staff knew what was happening to her client and did nothing to prevent it.
The victim was often at the motel for six weeks at a time, according to Moore.
“With you know 10 to 15 customers or men coming to the room a day for this young girl to service these grown men and essentially be raped dozens of times on their premises,” she said.
An expert on child sex trafficking from the Arkansas Department of Human Services told the judge she found 89 ads in Northwest Arkansas advertising Jane Doe with explicit and repulsive descriptions of services she would provide.
“I can’t emphasize enough that the only way to stop this is for us to continue pursuing cases like this. So we are shutting down the businesses that are supporting it. But also, for the general public to be aware of it because we are those people in power that can help young girls like our client in this case,” Moore said.
In the ruling Benton County, Judge Doug Schrantz says the punitive damages of more than $19 million is intended to send a message to those that engage in this business in whatever capacity— whether they are trafficker, hotels, advertising or any other entity that allow this sort of business to occur.
He went on to say "this award for both compensatory and punitive damages is a fair judgment and hopefully will result in a substantial decrease in the numbers of underaged children being trafficked in Northwest Arkansas and elsewhere in the state."
Moore says Doe testified during the trial, which is very tough for survivors.
“I think it really did send a good message to our client that 'listen, you are being heard and no amount of money can compensate you for everything you’ve been through, but it ends today that anybody in power— that any man in power— is not going to stick up for you,” she said.
According to Washington County property records, OM Hospitality, Inc sold the motel to SMD Hospitality, LLC in August 2018.
In 2021, the Western Arkansas Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force investigated 67 child exploitation cases and three sex trafficking of minor cases. Nationwide, the FBI opened 1,700 trafficking investigations in 2021.
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