Hotel Housekeepers Share Tales of Sexual Harassment


Hotel Maids Solicited by Guests

The high-profile sexual assault cases are also revealing the surprising dangers of a job that does not always seem dangerous, shedding light on just how many sexual assaults against housekeeping staff are reported, or not, to hotel security every year.

"We're hearing lots and lots of stories," said Annemarie Strassel, spokeswoman for Hotel Workers Rising, an offshoot of Unite Here, a union that represents 100,000 workers in the hotel industry.

Hortensa Valera, a hotel housekeeper for the past 11 years, said hotel guests often turn her cleaning job into a nightmare.

The mother of two told ABC News she can recall at least six instances in the past 11 years when she has been solicited by hotel guests, including one man who closely watched as she cleaned his room.

Valera said he asked her whether she needed some extra cash. Confused, she questioned him, and then she says he offered to pay if she gave him an intimate massage. When she realized what he was asking, she gasped, and ran out of the room.

"My body was shaking like ... oh my god," she said. "At the same time I was shaking, I was rushing ... and the only thing I was thinking was 'go'."

Anthony Romans, a hotel security and risk management consultant, told ABC News such incidents are common.

"Propositioning and touching happens approximately 10 to 12 times per year and the more serious events, such as propositioning in a more aggressive fashion where they're holding the maid against their will and actually sexually assaulting them would occur once or twice per year," he said.

In the last three years, at least 10 other hotel housekeepers have said they have been attacked in the United States, according to an AP review of court documents and news reports.

"They just think that because we didn't go to college or that we do this kind of job, we don't have values," Valera said. "They should treat us, the housekeepers, the same way they treat their mothers or their sisters or any woman who they value."

John Turchiano, spokesman for the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, says the term "maid" -- often used by the public and the media to describe room attendants or housekeepers -- not only suggests subservience, but also has sexual overtones.

"The term 'maid' conjures up images we'd like to avoid … curtseys and short skirts," he said.

While the Sofitel, where the Strauss-Kahn incident occurred, has been roundly credited for reacting quickly and appropriately to the maid's allegations, advocates for hotel workers said this high-profile example is more the exception than the rule.

"The housekeepers have no say," said Lorena Lopez, a Los Angeles-based organizer for Unite Here, the hotel workers' union charged with protecting women like the maid in the Strauss-Kahn case.

Housekeepers will have their say Thursday, however, when Hotel Workers Rising has scheduled press conferences in nine cities with nearly 100 women, including those who are not part of any union, to share stories about sexual harassment in the hotel industry, a problem Strassel called "pervasive."

"There has been silence on this issue for a long time -- we think it's really important that women come forward and we expect that the hotels will respond appropriately," she said.

Turchiano said union membership makes it easier for hotel employees to speak out when something inappropriate happens, without fear of reprisal or discipline.

"If they report an incident to management, the union will back them up 100 percent," he said.

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