The U.S. Supreme Court has been busy this week! One of its many activities that got quite a bit of press coverage was the decision to strike down a Los Angeles ordinance allowing police to inspect hotel guest records on demand and without a warrant. The law existed to aid law enforcement in combating criminal activity at hotels, such as drug dealing and commercial sexual exploitation (including kids). The Court decided that the ordinance was unconstitutional under the 4th amendment, which guarantees freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. As a result, police will have a harder time inspecting those records.
As I learned about this case recently, I immediately had a flashback. I remembered a scene in the movie Hotel Rwanda where the national military came to the Hôtel des Mille Collines and demanded the guest list. They were searching for the names of Tutsi people – those the genocide in Rwanda targeted and killed.
As a human rights activist, freedom is pretty important to me.
To compare this to the Rwandan genocide is extreme, and I’d hate to use fear mongering to discuss this issue (anti-trafficking groups never do that…), but I think it’s reasonable to look at what dangers a society faces when certain freedoms aren’t sacred.
On the other hand, while there could be room for abuse of the Los Angeles law, the city had a good reason for allowing those records inspections — and it was for good reason that the case made it to the Supreme Court. Hotels can be used by criminals and to be quite frank, many of the survivors of child trafficking we work with have been exploited in hotels. It is incredibly upsetting to imagine hotel workers moving about check-ins and clean-ups when they may be, perhaps unknowingly, allowing the operation of a pop-up brothel.
For this reason, a few months ago, Love146 actually participated in the case’s hearing. Kristian Rose, our Texas Operations Director and General Counsel, shared:
Vulnerable and exploited children were not made a party to this case and they weren’t invited to share their perspective with the Court. So we attempted to represent them by filing an amicus curiae brief – a kind of legal and factual overview offered as a “friend of the court” (which is the english translation of “amicus curiae”). We made sure that as our esteemed Justices considered the constitutional questions before them, they did so with all relevant facts in hand – including a clear picture of exactly how traffickers thrive off of the anonymity and fluidity that public accommodations currently provide. Those who sexually exploit children in motels and hotels usually hide behind tightly closed doors. But in this case, we made sure they were fully visible to the Court.
The outcome of this case was important to us, because the safety of vulnerable & exploited children is important to us. By a narrow vote of 5 to 4, the Court struck down the city ordinance. This outcome (though decided for good reasons) could create an added barrier for law enforcement responding to those being exploited in hotels. While hotels maintain their 4th Amendment freedom, I think we should take a look at the old saying, “freedom isn’t free.” Who will pay for this freedom? In this case, part of the cost might come at the expense of children going through horrors without easily being found by law enforcement.
So now that the ruling has come down, we simply say, “OK – what’s next? How will we at Love146 continue to see children protected and defended?”
First of all, the community (aka you and I) should be reporting. When it comes to national security, we have the motto “if you see something, say something.” If human freedom and safety is to be upheld without infringing on privacy, then this motto definitely applies here too. If you see something sketchy that could be trafficking at a hotel you’re staying at or a hotel in your community, report it to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888-373-7888) and the hotel management.
Additionally, if law enforcement doesn’t have unrestricted ability to look over the shoulder of hotel employees (not that they should), then we ought to ask: who should be responsible for seeing and responding to this criminal abuse of children? Well, it must be hotel staff and owners. Since we at Love146 know children and other vulnerable people are exploited in hotels and motels, we actually have resources specifically to address this problem. Last year, Love146 volunteers reached dozens of hotels with materials to educate their staff on how to spot trafficking and respond to it. We’ve seen the management and staff of many hotels respond well to Love146’s training, sincerely interested in doing all they can to make their businesses safer.
As we enjoy our freedom protected by the Supreme Court this week, then we should also take steps to ensure that freedom is extended and upheld for all people.
You can get involved to do just that:
Balancing our freedoms with the need to protect vulnerable children is a thin line.
Join the conversation and share your thoughts.
Header image modified from photo by Jo Naylor.