Behind Closed Doors: The Mills Motel and the Role of Hotels in Human Trafficking

A notorious destination in which human trafficking allegedly occurs and one that is located right off the Mills College campus is the Mills Motel. While this motel shares the name of the college, these spaces are polar opposites. It is not a well-kept secret that the Mills Motel attracts potential illegal activity – people walking past the small arrangement of buildings often can be seen stepping up their pace and looking away as they pass by. The Oakland police blotter reveals that this hotel is frequented by law enforcement officials on calls for various reports of illegal activities. Since 2010, more than 144 calls have been made to the Oakland Police Department regarding allegedly illegal activity at the hotel (SF Gate).

The Mills Motel is currently under state and federal investigation and is in the process of fighting a lawsuit brought by the City of Oakland. If the lawsuit is successful, the motel will be closed for one year. The suit alleges that the motel owners were aware of drug and human trafficking taking place there and even enabled human trafficking by selling and distributing condoms to the sex workers who stayed in its rooms (SF Gate). These allegations probably do not come as a surprise to many Oakland residents who may have noticed the police activity there over the years. But the hotel, and others like it, are symbolic of a much greater issue: the spaces in which sex work and human trafficking are conducted. Because both human trafficking and sex trade between consenting adults is illegal, this kind of work tends to take place behind closed doors, frequently at hotels.

Spaces that harbor human trafficking might not always be easily identifiable – furthermore, the very people working in low-wage jobs at hotels may be victims of human trafficking as well. Trafficked individuals are frequently recruited for hospitality labor in hotels in the US and beyond.

I selected the Mills Motel for this project because it symbolizes a space in which human trafficking is typically conducted. While it remains to be seen whether the allegations of illegal sex trade and human trafficking at the hotel result in any convictions, the motel’s legal troubles are a tangible example of the human trafficking epidemic in Oakland and the efforts by law enforcement to address the problem. While police activity is only an indication that illegal activity might be taking place at a hotel, it is important to recognize other signs that human trafficking might be taking place:
-A guest pays for one or more rooms on a day-to-day basis in cash
-A guest escorts a series of men into his or her room
-An older female or male guest hangs around a hotel room door until a visitor leaves
-A guest is rarely left alone
-A guest seems to be under the control of someone else and does not have money or identification on his or her person (ECAPT USA).

This hotel will contribute to my tour because it will educate participants on what to look for when selecting a hotel, as well as encourage them to confront the possibility that human trafficking could be occurring in plain sight. It is much easier to turn one’s head and look the other way, than open one’s eyes wide, embracing the opportunity to examine this complex issue and to think critically about the issue as a whole.

Street Address:

4550 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619 [map]

Cite this Page:

Kendall Anderson , “Behind Closed Doors: The Mills Motel and the Role of Hotels in Human Trafficking ,” Street Stories: Oakland, accessed October 16, 2018,
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