High-Profile Sexual Assault Cases Shed Light on Vulnerable Housekeepers

PHOTO: A prominent, 74-year-old Egyptian former bank chairman, Mahmoud Abdel Salam Omar, was arrested at New Yorks Pierre Hotel this morning in connection with an alleged sex assault Sunday on a 44-year-old room maid.
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After alleged sexual assaults by two high-profile international businessmen in New York City in the last couple weeks, many are saying it is time to give more protection to hotel workers, especially vulnerable housekeepers.

"These working women are afraid if they complain about a guest they won't be heard, they will be ignored, they will be shamed," Lorena Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Housekeeper Equality Initiative, told ABC News.

Mahmoud Abdel Salam Omar, 74, a prominent former Egyptian bank chairman, was accused Sunday of sexually assaulting a housekeeper at the posh Pierre Hotel in New York City.

Sources say on Sunday at 6 p.m., Omar called to have tissues delivered to his $1,000-a-night suite.

A 44-year-old hotel maid said that when she arrived at the room, Omar, wearing pajamas, asked her to leave the tissues on a table. He then allegedly locked the door and tried to kiss and grope her.

The maid said she told Omar, "I am not here for that," at which point he allegedly stopped and asked her for her phone number. After slipping him false digits, the maid said she was able to get away and immediately reported the incident to supervisors.

Omar was arrested on charges of sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, is under house arrest in Manhattan after a grand jury indicted him on seven charges relating to an alleged sexual assault on a hotel maid at the Sofitel Hotel in midtown Manhattan on May 14.

Hotel union officials insist requests of sex, sex for money and even outright assaults can all go underreported because housekeepers, who often come from immigrant backgrounds, are scared to lose their jobs.

"They're put in a very difficult situation," Lopez said. "If they speak out, their job might be on the line. The guest is always right. They're afraid to speak out and complain to management because they know they might be disciplined and might be found guilty."

The Pierre Hotel released a statement on Tuesday saying, "The Pierre's priority is the safety of our guests and staff. We take all complaints very seriously and investigate thoroughly. This incident has been formally reported to the New York Police Department and is under investigation. And we will fully comply with the investigation as requested."

Hotels also don't always act promptly to address complaints of sexual assault, Lopez said. In the case of the maid allegedly attacked by Omar, union president Peter Ward said that the superintendent to whom she reported the incident only noted it in a log book. It was only after another supervisor saw the entry the next day that police were contacted.

The Pierre Hotel has since suspended the supervisor who told a room attendant to wait a day before telling security she was groped, according to the union that represents the victim. The union said the hotel has assured them management will enhance training and work towards the implementation of a panic device for employees to keep this sort of thing from happening again.

Union officials say hotels should make sure housekeepers work with another person in close proximity, doors are left open during cleaning and maids have the option of wearing long pants instead of dresses.

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