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Prompted by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn prosecution for allegedly raping a hotel maid, Jacob Tomsky in the NYTimes offered a window into the epidemic of hotel crime directed at women:

On top of [their grueling work], they have to be sexually accosted by guests? Sadly, yes. And more often than you’d think. It’s not an everyday occurrence but it happens enough to make this question all too familiar: “Mr. Tomsky, can you give the new girl Room 3501 until next Tuesday? That man is back, the one who loves to let his robe fall open every time I try to clean.” So, yes, we assign the room to the new girl.

But not before hotel managers roll up to the room, flanked by security guards, to request that the guest vacate during cleaning, or at least promise to remain fully clothed or risk expulsion. Often it need not be discussed in detail: those guests who can’t seem to tie their robe properly usually know exactly what they’re guilty of. Typically, an unsolicited phone call from management inquiring if the service in their room is up-to-standard, and offering to send a manager to supervise the next cleaning, improves their behavior. I remember one exhibitionist guest, in New Orleans, cutting me off before I could get down to business:

“Sir, this is Jacob, the housekeeping manager — ”

“O.K., fine, O.K.!” And he hung up. That was that.

The problem isn’t limited to housekeepers. Trial lawyers routinely see cases where guests are raped or sexually assaulted even while inside hotels, sometimes within their rooms. Perhaps the most troubling part is that we have no idea how big the problem even is:

The fact is nobody knows how much crime is committed in hotels vs. elsewhere. Police don’t keep statistics on that, and no hotel companies responded to USA TODAY’s requests for crime data. However, hotel security experts such as Farina estimate that at least one crime may occur daily in a big-city hotel. And, they say, most are thefts.

A 2009 study that examined crimes reported by 64 Miami Beach hotels to the Miami Beach Police Department in 2002 and 2003 shows that theft is the chief problem.

Insurance claims also don’t give an accurate gauge of how much theft occurs.

Studies by criminologists have estimated — admitting a lot of potential for error in the data — that about half of all hotel crime involves burglaries from hotels rooms or thefts from guests’ cars, but that leaves a tremendous number of assaults, batteries, and personal thefts. Although the whole hotel presents a danger, since windows and foot traffic tend to be scarce throughout the building and the rooms are intentionally sound-proof, the parking garages are usually the most dangerous.

A review of some of the recent inadequate security / hotel rape cases reveals exactly what the problem is:

The night of Mrs. Hirst’s rape, the Ranger security guard on duty, Felix St. Rose (“St. Rose”), arrived for his shift “some minutes before ten.” (App.254-55.) He was provided with neither a flashlight nor a radio. St. Rose testified that, during his shift, he failed to perform several of the duties enumerated in the post orders. For example, St. Rose patrolled the resort only once an hour, instead of twice an hour as the post orders required. Additionally, St. Rose did not patrol at all the area of the resort where Mrs. Hirst was raped. According to St. Rose, he did not patrol the area where the Hirsts’ cottage was located because his supervisor told him that the area was “too dark for [his] own safety.” (App.256.). St. Rose believed that “without a flashlight or without any light, somebody could jump out and knock [him] down or knock [him] out.” (App.265)

Hirst v. Inverness Hotel Corp., 544 F. 3d 221, 223 (3rd Cir. 2008).

In other words, the “security guard” was a total scam designed to create the appearance of security, but not actually create a reality of security. “Security theater” is the term used these days, and it applies to a shockingly high percentage of hotels and motels. We can only hope that, as the Strauss-Kahn prosecution winds its way through the Courts, it will shed some light on this dark secret of the tourism industry. It’s about time we have some real numbers; if you don’t admit there’s a problem, how can you fix it?