What Happens When Hotels Are Also Brothels?

Apparently, I am the only person not surprised by the alleged events that took place in Sofitel Hotel in New York City that lead to Dominique Strauss Kahn’s arrest. My lack of surprise has nothing to do with the man in question, but rather stems from my time, as a teenager, working as a chamber maid in a major Toronto hotel. During this period I gained intimate knowledge of the behavior of international travellers in hotels; especially that of powerful, and somewhat entitled, men toward the often vulnerable women working the hotel floors. 

My personal experience is that those men expect hotel workers to provide sexual services.

Regular readers of Dollars and Sex will remember a previous post in which I interviewed a pimp who was working with the concierge in a local hotel to supply sex workers to guests. While those sex workers were in some respects voluntarily participating, the pimp admitted to using extortion, violence and drugs to get these very young women to cooperate.

A few weeks after the filmed version of the pimp interview was shown to my Economics of Sex and Love class a student came to me with the following story. He had recently started working at the over-night desk in a local hotel (which, by the way is part of a major hotel chain).  His very first night on the job an angry hotel guest arrived at the front the desk in the early hours of the morning demanding assistance. 

It turned out that the guest had asked for a prostitute to be sent to his room, presumably through the concierge, but when the girl had arrived she refused to perform the all of the services he demanded. He tried to force her to cooperate and when she managed to escape the room he pursued her down the hallway. To his chagrin, she escaped, which is what lead him to go to the front desk to complain.

 What makes this a revealing story is that the reason I am able to tell you these details is not because this girl went to police and pressed charges against her attacker but because the man in question went to the front desk of the hotel and asked the clerk what he planned to do to solve HIS problem –he had paid for a service that he did not receive and clearly felt the hotel was responsible.

What is the role played by hotels in the sex trades? Does anyone really know? I know that Hilton Hotels have finally agreed, after being aggressively hounded by human rights groups for months, to sign an international code of conduct that commits them to train their staff to spot and prevent the sex trafficking of children.  They are only one of two hotel chains (along with Delta) that have agreed to sign ECPAT Code of Conduct for Travel and Tourism and that agreement only deals with the treatment of children.

I am not suggesting that the woman who made the accusation against DSK was a sex worker, far from it. I am suggesting that some employees at hotels, such as the concierge mentioned in my pimp piece, have perpetuated an expectation among international travellers that they are entitled to sex services that are, at the minimum, illegal, and do not necessarily involve the consent of the women involved. This expectation of sexual services is putting women who work in hotels at risk and unless hotels are prepared to act to protect them, and rid themselves of the pimps on their payroll, it will only continue.

So like I said, I was not really that surprised by the DSK episode.  And I suspect that many other women who have worked cleaning rooms in hotels in major cities felt exactly the same way. 

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