Customers complained about prostitution at this hotel chain for years. The company claimed it didn’t see it

An interactive map compiled by The Independent shows where customers complained about prostitution at Red Roof Inn hotels.   (iStock/The Independent)
An interactive map compiled by The Independent shows where customers complained about prostitution at Red Roof Inn hotels. (iStock/The Independent)

Customers staying at Red Roof Inn hotels across the country complained about the presence of prostitution for years, an investigation by The Independent has found.

An analysis of customer reviews posted online found hotel guests suspected or claimed to have witnessed prostitution at 177 Red Roof Inn locations. In many of those hotels, customers claimed the prostitution was so blatant that hotel management must have been aware of it — and even ignored guests who flagged concerns to staff.

"This place is a complete dump. Infested with drug dealers and prostitution. What’s sad about it is that management is 100 percent fully aware of what’s going on," reads one review for the Red Roof Inn Hampton Coliseum and Convention Center in Virginia.

“The girl next door was a prostitute and openly told us that she specialized in couples and all night there was bumping and banging in the room loud enough to startle us out of our sleep.. all of these things were complained about with no resolve,” wrote another for a Red Roof Inn in Dayton, Ohio.

A map of the hotels where customers mention prostitution in their reviews, compiled by The Independent, shows the scale of the issue across Red Roof Inn hotels nationwide.

But the reviews also provide insight into a much larger problem: Red Roof Inn is currently facing at least 42 lawsuits from sex trafficking victims who claim the company turned a blind eye and profited from their abuse for years. Hundreds more victims are in the process of filing legal action, according to attorneys working on their cases, The Independent revealed in an investigation.

Customer reviews mentioning prostitution have been used by attorneys in those lawsuits to demonstrate the chain did not take action to prevent sex trafficking at its hotels.

Red Roof Inn declined to comment when asked directly by The Independent about customer reviews mentioning prostitution at more than 170 of its more than 620 branded hotels. It has repeatedly denied that it ignored sex trafficking at its hotels.

Of the 177 locations where prostitution was found in online reviews, 58 have been mentioned in sex trafficking lawsuits. This brings the total number of Red Roof Inn locations linked to prostitution or sex trafficking  — in lawsuits and online reviews — to 236 across the US, or more than 1 in 3 of the chain’s branches.

While Red Roof Inn denies that it was aware of illegal activity at its properties, the reviews demonstrate that customers noticed and complained in online reviews about prostitution at the company’s hotels for years.

One reviewer described a Detroit Red Roof Inn as a “haven for prostitution.” Another reported seeing a sex worker “leave another room and pay her pimp money."

A review left by a customer who stayed at a Red Roof Inn in Connecticut. (Screenshot from Yelp)
A review left by a customer who stayed at a Red Roof Inn in Connecticut. (Screenshot from Yelp)

The highest number of Red Roof Inn branches where reviews mention prostitution are found in Michigan, where guests reported forms of prostitution at half (16 out of 31) of all locations.

Sex trafficking

is the crime of using force, fraud or coercion to induce another individual to sell sex.

Texas is the next on the list, with 16 locations, followed by Florida (13).

The claims made in the reviews have not been individually verified. The Independent analyzed reviews left on Google, Priceline, Trip.com, Tripadvisor and Yelp.

Red Roof Inn has used outside companies to monitor online reviews of its hotels for more than a decade. It partnered with Clarabridge, an analytics firm, to turn “all of the guest reviews into actual data”, according to a press release, from at least 2010 until 2019. In 2019, it hired a company called Medallia to analyze its social and customer reviews.

And Red Roof Inn management has spoken publicly about how seriously they take that feedback. “Online reviews are a lens into our operations on a daily basis,” Marina MacDonald, the chief marketing officer at Red Roof Inn for 16 years, said in 2015. “Reviews have always been a benchmark of Red Roof’s commitment to great guest service,” reads a 2015 press release, which included a statement from Red Roof Inn president Andrew Alexander declaring: “As a company, we pride ourselves on how well we listen to our guests.”

The Smyrna Red Roof Inn, where some of the plaintiffs in the Atlanta trial say they were trafficked. (Google)
The Smyrna Red Roof Inn, where some of the plaintiffs in the Atlanta trial say they were trafficked. (Google)

Red Roof Inn’s monitoring of online reviews indicates it was aware of customer complaints about prostitution on its properties. Although prostitution does not always include sex trafficking, lawyers for the victims taking legal action have argued that allowing it to become so rampant at Red Roof Inn hotels proved the company was not doing due diligence to prevent their trafficking.

Alan Borowsky, an attorney who has taken on dozens of cases relating to sex trafficking at Red Roof Inn, told The Independent that the scale and signs of prostitution were so obvious that the law required action to be taken.

“Even if you have an instance where sex trafficking may not be outwardly distinguishable from non-coerced sex work, you still have situations where clearly there is some type of commercial sex venture, and it can be discovered through the course of reasonable expectations of observation and investigation that a sex trafficking venture is afoot,” he said.

“And that’s where the liability comes in,” he said.

Emma Hetherington, director of the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Clinic and an associate professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, said the map created by The Independent demonstrated a “failure” on the part of hotels, law enforcement and anyone who should know the signs of sex trafficking and yet doesn’t report it.

Last month, a landmark trial in Atlanta saw 11 victims of sex trafficking testify in court against the hotel chain as part of a lawsuit that alleged it ignored obvious signs of their abuse to maximize profits. It was the first time a sex trafficking lawsuit against a major hotel chain had gone to trial.

Following a settlement in the Atlanta lawsuit, Red Roof Inn said in a statement that it “denies all allegations” and “condemns prostitution and sex trafficking in all forms.” It also claimed to have “taken steps to mitigate criminal activity at Red Roof properties,” without clarifying further.

The victims in the lawsuits, some of whom were underage at the time, accused the company of allowing its rooms to be rented to the sex traffickers who kept them there and controlled every aspect of their lives.

Most of the locations mentioned in the lawsuits are operated by franchisees, but attorneys for the alleged victims are seeking damages from the corporate operation, too.