Sex trafficking victim files federal lawsuit against North Dakota hotel

A Georgia woman who said she was trafficked at the hotel said staff should have known and could have prevented sex trafficking in the rooms.

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The William J. Guy Federal Building serves as a federal courthouse in Bismarck.
Adam Willis / The Forum

WILLISTON, N.D. — A Williston hotel has been accused in a federal civil lawsuit of allowing sex trafficking to happen in its rooms.

A woman from Georgia filed the lawsuit on Friday, May 12, in North Dakota’s U.S. District Court against 26th Street Hospitality, which owns Mainstay Suites at 200 26th St. E. in Williston.

The woman said she was trafficked at the hotel in 2013 and 2014. That was during the oil boom, a time when oil workers flooded western North Dakota and authorities reported a spike in sex trafficking.

“For an inordinate period of time, Defendant has allowed criminal trafficker(s) to brazenly sell commercial sex within the subject hotel,” a civil complaint said. “Defendant chose to continue receiving financial gain at the expense of human life, rights, and dignity.”

The lawsuit does not name the woman in an effort to protect her privacy. It also does not name alleged traffickers.


The Forum reached out to Mainstay for comment on the lawsuit, but that message was not returned by publishing time. Court records did not list an attorney for the hotel.

The civil complaint alleged the hotel received payment for room rental from traffickers. The woman was forced to perform “numerous commercial sex acts” in a Mainstay hotel room each day, the complaint said. She also was forced to ingest drugs and alcohol, the complaint said.

The lawsuit claimed that the hotel and its staff knew or should have known sex trafficking was happening in the building. If hotel staff were properly trained, they would have noticed several red flags and could have prevented trafficking, the complaint said.

“The motivation behind Defendant’s ongoing willful blindness and ongoing failure to act was financial benefit,” the complaint said. “By repeatedly failing to heed the call or repeatedly failing to execute their own policies, Defendant facilitated the sexual trafficking crimes at the subject hotel and in particular the victimization of this particular Plaintiff.”

The lawsuit alleges the hotel violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which allows sex trafficking victims to bring civil action against those who benefited from their suffering.

The complaint did not state a specific amount of money the woman is seeking in damages.

The victim suing Mainstay is not alone in her legal approach. A number of similar lawsuits have been filed against hotel companies in other states, including Ohio , Arkansas , Georgia and Texas, news reports show . In February, a hotel owner in Philadelphia was order to pay $24 million to eight sex trafficking victims.

The woman's attorneys said they represented others in southwest Florida lawsuits, saying many of those have been resolved. The attorneys said they are also investigating potential lawsuits in other states.


In North Dakota, it’s unclear how many women were trafficked during the oil boom. The state didn’t start tracking those numbers until 2015.

The North Dakota Human Trafficking Task Force said it has served 721 trafficking victims since 2016, with 29% being children.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline says it has identified 367 victims in North Dakota since 2007, including 30 from 2021, the latest numbers available on the website supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. If that person is in immediate danger, call 911.

For more information on the North Dakota task force or to report a tip, go to .

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April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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