Airbnb, the international ‘sharing economy’ holiday-rental website, has had to to review its security measures after an American teen staying in Spain said he was assaulted by his transsexual host.
The Local reports 19 year old Massachusetts resident Jacob Lopez was visiting Madrid in July. He says he was trapped inside the private fourth-floor apartment and assaulted by his host, a transsexual woman born a man, who had locked the doors and removed the key. Lopez says his host repeatedly tried to kiss him, ordering him to remove his trousers or face sleeping on the streets.
Lopez had his telephone on him so he contacted his mother on the other side of the world. Afraid he may be heard he sent her a series of text messages, described by the New York Times as “straight out of a horror movie.”
He explained the host was still there, rattling knives in kitchen drawers and pressing him to submit to a sexual act. Lopez begged his mother for help but believing his host had a weapon he says he was sexually assaulted.
Meanwhile his mother was doing her frantic best to come to her son’s assistance from America. She called Airbnb for help, but its employees would not give her the address of the flat and refused to call the police themselves. She was given a contact number for Madrid police and told she should ask them to call the company for the host’s address.
The number the mother was given led to a recorded Spanish language message that kept disconnecting her. She then called back the contact at Airbnb but those calls went through to voice mail.
By the time she thought to ask Jacob directly the host had turned off the internet so messaging would not get through. He says he did not realise he could have telephoned and spoken in person, but in any case claims to have been too scared to speak aloud.
The New York Times reports that after the sexual assault it was not clear to Lopez he would be able to leave, so he began looking around for a weapon that would allow him to escape. He said:
“I was telling myself that I was going to have to kill her or she was going to kill me.
“Thoughts that should never have to go through anyone’s mind started to come into mine. How are you going to live with yourself the rest of your life knowing that you killed someone? But if you don’t, then you won’t have a life.”
Choosing not to fight he invented a story about plans to meet friends nearby who knew where he was staying. He told his host that if he did not show up they would either come for him or call police. He says this scared his host into letting him leave with his belongings.
The host of the Madrid apartment denies threatening anyone, saying the sex act was consensual and that Lopez is ‘transphobic’. Madrid police declined to comment, though they have visited the host who expects to be exonerated.
However, The New York Times does point out that filing a false police report and going public is “an unlikely way to bury a regrettable experience.” Lopez is now in trauma therapy.
Airbnb told The Local it will strengthen safety measures in light of these events, saying:
“Guests and hosts can identify an Emergency Contact when they’re setting up their profile. We’re working on enhancing this tool so these Emergency Contacts are pre-authorized to receive any information they need in case of an emergency.
“We’re also overhauling the system that guests use to share their itineraries with family and friends, making it easier and faster for guests to share all the important details about their trip, especially from their mobile device.”
The New York Times also gives suggestions on safety from the Lopez family:
“The guest and a family member or friend should always have the host’s address easily accessible. Make sure your phone has international service and that you know how to call the local emergency number.”