Below is an abridged version of a letter I sent to the Hilton Corporation, as well as other organizations that would have authority to take action, after being exposed to what appeared to be human trafficking in a Hilton hotel. I have removed identifying information of individuals that I included in the original letter because identifying information is not needed for the purposes of this blog. Modern day slavery is a real nightmare that many live with still today. May we not be complacent.
I am a School Leader and traveled with a colleague this past week. The recommended hotel was Hilton Doubletree in Silver Spring, MD, so that is where we made our reservation and checked in on Wednesday, December 7, 2016. Several things happened during the course of our short stay that led me to suspect human sex trafficking was happening at the hotel and which led us to call 9-1-1 and leave abruptly in the middle of the night on December 8, 2016 to go to another hotel. Additionally, several of the circumstances suggest that hotel staff could have been aware of this activity or were accustomed to turning a blind eye to it. Below are the concerning details of our stay.
In retrospect, there were several occurrences throughout our stay that serve to buttress our suspicions and which I will reference later. However, I will begin with the disturbance the second night of our stay that led to us leaving the hotel under police escort.
We returned to the hotel around 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 8, 2016. After doing some work in our room, we went down to the hotel lobby restaurant and purchased dessert to take to the room. After getting our dessert, we returned to our room, worked for a while, got ready for bed, and went to sleep. Around 1:40 a.m., I awoke to sounds of crying/moaning. I began to listen closely because the sound was disturbing. It was coming from the room adjoined to ours with a locked door. I quietly got up and went closer to the door as the noise continued. I then heard rhythmic thumping and realized that I was likely hearing the sounds of the climax of sexual intercourse next door. I got back in bed. The noise stopped and then started again. However, as the noise repeated, it sounded like crying and whimpering rather than pleasure. The moaning and crying stopped and started again a few times. I got out of bed again and listened through the door to hear people talking and then the moaning/whimpering start again. It sounded like there were several people in the room.
I awoke my colleague and told her that something didn’t sound right next door. She had told me earlier that day that she had heard similar noises on the previous night, December 7, our first night in the hotel. She now confirmed that these noises sounded the same. She also said she had been awakened by similar noises that same evening, 2 hours earlier, at approximately 11:45 p.m. She said that there had been loud conversations both nights that had ended with loud 90’s music playing. People in the hallway had called out goodbyes and, from the sounds of it, had left the adjoining room to go to a room across the hall. She said that within a few minutes of the loud conversations ending, she had heard the repetitive grunts of intercourse. She said there had been some giggling earlier but noted that there was no more laughing now after the repetitive and concerning stopping and starting of climax sounds over the course of two hours. We were again listening to the unpleasant sounds of whimpering and moaning.
The noises did not sound like consensual sex. I called the front desk to report the situation, and I was told that security would look into it. Security never came by but the sex ceased. Men were talking. About 10 minutes passed. The sex started again. It sounded painful. There was groaning, grunts, and whimpers. Someone was being “shushed.” We heard no signs of hotel security. We were whispering and trying to problem solve with one another. With each sound, it was harder and harder to bear and we questioned what would be the best way to handle it since hotel security did not address it. I looked at the clock and noted it was around 2:15 a.m. and said it was a long time until morning, so we couldn’t just wait it out. My colleague replied, “Now, we call 9-1-1.” I made the call to 9-1-1 on my cell phone at 1:57 a.m. and whispered answers to the questions asked of me because I was obviously not confident of my safety at this point. I told them what we were hearing. We began searching for the hotel address as the 9-1-1 operator guided us on places to look. We began to get dressed and pack as I talked to the 9-1-1 operator. At this point, we were concerned for the girl’s safety but also concerned for our own safety. I asked the operator to stay on the phone with me until police arrived. Within seconds of each other, several things happened that led me to believe the people next door were being “tipped off” to the presence of police in the hotel.
- The 9-1-1 operator told me police arrived on the scene and asked me if I was in my room and safe.
- Someone walked through the hall with loud music blaring the same late 90’s music.
- Men were talking loudly in the hallway.
- The woman next door screamed during the extremely loud music.
- The music ceased as quickly as it started.
- I told the operator I was in my room but that I did not know if I was safe.
The operator kept asking if I felt safe, presumably to get a different answer, and asked if we could get off the phone now that police had arrived. I told the operator I needed her to stay on the phone, especially now that the response to police coming to the hotel had begun to feel very “orchestrated.” There was a knock at our door. I looked through the peep hole and saw police. I cracked the door and briefly told them that we were concerned about what we were hearing next door. I stated that we wanted to leave the hotel. Again, the operator asked if we could hang up now. I told her I wanted her to stay on the line until we were escorted out safely by police.
I closed the door. The police knocked on the door of the adjoining room. All was quiet; no one answered. The police knocked again and said, “police.” We then heard the man and police speak to each other. My colleague heard the police ask the girl if she was safe and the girl say yes. I heard her laugh loudly, unnaturally, and very different than she had sounded only minutes before. She said something like, “Oh my goodness, are you serious?” It sounded like a response to being told that a neighboring room had called the police. The police did not search the room nor confirm that there were only two people in it.
The door next to us closed. There was another knock at our door. I looked through the peep hole again and saw the police laughing. I commented to my colleague that they didn’t believe us and were smirking. I opened the door. They said, “They’re just having a good time.” They seemed to want to shut the door and say, “Have a good night.” I still had the 9-1-1 operator on the line with me. I said that we did not feel safe, especially now that the neighboring room and hotel management knew we had called the police. I requested that we be escorted to the lobby of the hotel and asked if there were any other hotels nearby. The police said there was a hotel across the street, so we followed them into the hall and I hung up with the 9-1-1 operator. They acquiesced to our request to escort us downstairs. The elevators had a note that said they were both closed for cleaning. The police said there was another elevator and took us into those elevators. My colleague and I both shared with each other later that we had not been comfortable getting into the elevator with two male police officers who were treating us like paranoid ladies.
On the elevator, I noted that what they heard upon entry and what we heard were two different things. The police officer said, “I’m sure they were.” He then paused and said, “She didn’t have any bruises or anything.” I had not suspected there would be any bruises, but I just said something like, “good.” My colleague asked if there were only two people in the room, and he replied, “yes, only two.” She was confident that more than two people had been involved in what was going on in the room.
We arrived on the lobby level and walked out of the elevator. The police stopped right there and were done engaging with us. No one offered to walk with us to the nearby hotel even though it was now between 2:00 and 2:40 a.m. My colleague and I exchanged glances trying to decide what to do next. I wanted to get out as quickly as possible but felt that we were not safe with the hotel staff or out on the sidewalks and streets at this time of night as two females with suitcases. My colleague encouraged me to go to the front desk and say we were checking out. She mentioned she felt they should know and expected them to help us deal with the situation. No one was at the front desk. A man was watching TV in the lobby, watching us look for a front desk person. He nodded his head toward the front desk person as he arrived. The two officers were joined by a third at the elevators, and they engaged in jovial conversation. The person behind the desk nonchalantly indicated it was okay for us to leave. There was also a man sitting outside the other elevator with tools. We had no other interactions with the police. We walked across the street by ourselves.
While this situation had been awful in itself, several other things had happened at the hotel that now began to appear as a pattern rather than unrelated. After the first night in the hotel, around 6:45 a.m. on the morning of December 8, I had gone to the fitness center to work out. I entered the door with my hotel key and walked toward the elliptical machines when I was startled to find a man sleeping on the floor, awakened by my presence. I said, “I’m sorry. Am I disturbing you?” He said I was not. I was unsure how to proceed because I did not want to be rude if a homeless individual had simply found a safe, warm place to sleep. However, either way it was a safety concern. The individual didn’t look disheveled or poorly dressed as if he did not have a home. He was a well-dressed man in slightly sagged jeans, a shirt, and a flat cap tilted down over his eyes as he rested. I stalled at the machine, deciding whether to workout with a strange man sleeping behind me or walk out abruptly. Neither choice felt particularly safe as he could clearly follow me if I left. Thankfully, the man stood up and walked out the door near which he was sleeping. I took this opportunity to quickly exit out a different door and noticed on my way out that he left his keys on the floor and would be back. I went to my room as quickly as possible and my colleague remarked how quickly I was back. I told her what had happened and then called the front desk to alert them. The female who answered the phone said she would notify security.
When we had arrived early the first evening, December 7, a pleasant young lady checked us in. She was welcoming and helpful. She asked if we were Hilton Honors customers and I explained that our family had previously had a Hilton Honors account but that I did not have the number with me. While I would never have the chance to ask the other professional educators if they experienced anything like our visit, it occurred to me that perhaps most had not been housed on the floor on which this sexual violence was taking place.
On the first morning, December 8, after encountering the man in the fitness facility and then getting ready for the day, my colleague and I went to the hotel lobby to await the school bus for the seminar. We got on the bus and participated in the agenda of the day. During the seminar, at 11:29 a.m., I received a text from (xxx) xxx-xxxx that said, “Just checking in—how is your stay going so far? Feel free to reply back with a 1-10 (10 being excellent). Have a great day! [female name]” I responded back with a “4.” In response, I received another text that said, “I am so sorry to hear of your poor experience. What could we do to make sure your experience is excellent?” I responded, “Safety in the fitness center. Discount for lack of safe use of fitness center. I walked in to an individual sleeping on the floor this morning who woke up to my presence.” In response, I received the following text, “Dear Mr. Draper, I sincerely apologize for the incident. This will be address to our security department. We can definitely apply a discount on your rate for the inconvenience. [different female name]” We never received a discount nor did I hear any more from the hotel staff.
After having left around 2:00-2:40 on the morning of December 9, the hotel we arrived at was a Hampton with a buzzer and locked front door through which we had to be buzzed in. We were politely greeted by a door attendant and a desk attendant, both male. I was relieved it was a Hampton because I knew about their 100% satisfaction guarantee. I then saw the Hilton Honors sign on the front desk next to the Hampton sign and immediately felt afraid that the two hotels were connected and shared personnel. The attendant stated a wrong name, assuming us to be a different guest checking in late. My colleague nervously pointed to the Hilton Honors affiliate sign.
The desk attendant apologized multiple times for what we had gone through so far that night. He expressed surprise when I relayed the information about the man sleeping in the fitness center. He said that the Hilton had been sending guests across the street as recently as the day before with communication that their fitness center was under construction. I clearly stated that it was definitely not under construction on that day.
We got to our new room around 2:40 a.m. My colleague and I began debriefing, and she emailed her husband everything just in case something more happened. I called my husband at 2:38 a.m. but didn’t get an answer, so texted at 2:40 a.m., “Sorry to bother you. I think I am safe but just switched hotels due to the situation in other hotel. If you awake and get this, I wouldn’t mind being checked on.” Neither my colleague nor I felt ready to sleep, so we climbed in bed with the lights on and rested until we finally fell asleep. We woke up to my colleague’s alarm at 6:15 a.m. followed by my husband’s return phone call at 6:16 a.m. I was relieved to be awakened and learn that I had indeed fallen asleep and awakened again in the morning with no other interruption.
We got ready and went downstairs for breakfast. The same attendants were on duty at the front desk and front door as the night before. Both seemed to smile sympathetically at us as they greeted us pleasantly. We waited in the Hampton until it was close enough to 8:00 a.m. that other professional educators would be in the lobby of the Hilton, awaiting the bus.
Upon arriving back at the Hilton, no one seemed to notice that we had checked out and arrived again. We went to the front desk because we needed our receipt. The attendant was a young woman. I asked who we would contact if we didn’t want to pay for the previous night. She stated that we could contact the hotel manager. The attendant had no expression, but made a comment about “being sure the manager knows” with the intonation of a question. I told her we had notified the staff after hearing non-consensual sex happening in the adjoining room but that nothing had been done. I told her that I did not feel comfortable contacting hotel staff about the situation and that I wanted a central number. She said that I could just call Hilton but made no expression of surprise at my report, nor did she offer an apology. She made some simple noise of acknowledgement at my experience.
I noted to my colleague that the desk attendant did not seem surprised. I felt concerned for the safety of the female desk attendant this morning and from the night before. My colleague wondered if they were trained that it was normal and to just dismiss it. My colleague then noted a young woman sitting in the corner, clearly not one of the professional educators. I had not noticed her on my own, but as soon as my colleague pointed her out, I thought, “That could be her.” Both my colleague and I wondered if that was the girl we had heard in the adjoining room the night before. She was young and underweight. She wore her hood up and kept her head down, focused on her phone. I would guess in her twenties. Her jeans were very torn up in the way trendy jeans are fashioned. She wore rings on her fingers. She was alone and seemed out of place. She had on socks with black slides.
My colleague was feeling compelled to ask if she was okay or needed help. I felt that approaching her could be offensive if we were just profiling and she was not the girl, but something told me that she was. My colleague kept asking if we should talk to her. I kept holding back. As our bus arrived, we found ourselves hanging to the back of the group, buying time to make a decision. I kept looking at her and briefly met her gaze a few times, and then we would both quickly look away. My colleague walked up to her and said something like, “Excuse me, miss, but, I feel compelled to ask you if you are okay… are you safe?” She inhaled/laughed and said, “of course, ma’am. My… boyfriend’s just bringing the car around.” She paused before the word boyfriend, as though she wasn’t sure what to call him for a split second. My colleague said okay and walked away. After I got on the bus, I saw a large male walk to the hotel door and open it. She walked out with him. He looked to be in his forties. Our bus left at 8:00am.
Later that day, we left our conference thirty minutes early, feeling emotionally drained and physically tired from the night’s events. Although our flight didn’t leave until 10 pm we headed to the airport…unable to site see, mingle, or enjoy much of anything. When arriving to the terminal, we saw there was an earlier flight home. We paid the $150 to book an earlier flight and get home to our families earlier than planned.
During the ride to the airport and the wait in the terminal, I did some brief Google searches about human sex trafficking in Washington, D.C. and Silver Spring specifically. There had been recent arrests for trafficking in another hotel in Silver Spring. Knowing that human trafficking was an issue in the area, I was all the more frustrated that police did not take our report seriously. The arrests had been of individuals just like the people we saw in the lobby of the Hilton Doubletree that morning, not my stereotype of who I had previously envisioned being caught up in human trafficking.
We later found out our 10 pm flight ended up being cancelled and were so very thankful to have caught the earlier flight and not have to navigate another night in the area, not knowing which hotels were safe and which were not. As I adjust to life back at home, I continue to feel distressed by what we heard and saw at the Hilton Doubletree in Silver Spring, MD. In many ways, it feels like experiencing secondary trauma after witnessing sexual violence. While I am taking the time to heal and process, I realize that a fire has been lit under me to ensure that the appropriate parties know about what is going on in this hotel. I hope that Hilton will take the initiative to encourage an investigation into the hotel for potential human trafficking.
I am sending this to you and to several organizations who work to combat human trafficking or work to represent victims of human trafficking. Thank you for making this a priority. Change will come only when these atrocities are clearly addressed.