During a recent hotel stay, I noticed that one of the housekeepers had arranged her cart so that it completely blocked entry to the room she was cleaning.
It is to my discredit that prior to this — despite my many hotel stays in recent years — I had not thought through how hotel workers were doing this for their own safety.
It took the sexual assault allegations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn to heighten my awareness…
Case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has asked a New York trial court to dismiss sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former chief of the International Monetary Fund, who has been accused of attacking a hotel housekeeper.
Because of Strauss-Kahn’s prominence, the case has garnered international attention. Unfortunately, as we see in many sexual assault cases, the focus turned back on the accuser instead of the accused. And in this situation, the accuser was found to be less than credible: It appears that she had lied repeatedly to investigators about significant aspects of her life and her encounter with Strauss-Kahn.
In moving for dismissal of the charges, prosecutors never claimed that she lied about the alleged assault itself. Rather, the complainant’s projected lack of overall credibility on the witness stand was one of the main reasons the case fell apart. As legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin aptly points out, this should not be seen as exoneration for Strauss-Kahn:
As the prosecutors tell it, his behavior seems odious at best and criminal at worst. A housekeeper appeared in his hotel room, and some brief time later—maybe ten minutes, maybe a little more—she was spitting out his semen in the hallway. It is difficult to imagine a scenario that reflects anything but dishonor, if not criminal culpability, on this prominent man.
The real story goes unacknowledged
Regardless of how we regard the Strauss-Kahn prosecution, the real story about risks of sexual harassment and violence that face hotel workers has been lost in the celebrity aspects of the case. Thank goodness that Labor Notes, which remains a beacon of labor journalism, gets us beyond the headlines and the legal drama. As Jenny Brown reports (link here):
Hotel workers face injuries from the physical stress of their work, including the awkward lifting of heavy mattresses hundreds of times a day. But the hidden hazard of hotel work, housekeepers say, is customers’ assaults on their dignity and physical integrity.
Workers report that male customers expose themselves, attempt to buy sexual services, grab and grope them and, in some cases, attempt to rape them.
. . . “Customers offer money for massage—but they don’t want massage, they want something else,” said Elizabeth Moreno, an 18-year Chicago hotel worker. When she delivers room service items, male guests occasionally come to the door naked, she said.
The problem is so prevalent that hotel workers in Hawaii and San Francisco have resisted management efforts to make them wear skirts. Workers said the uniforms make them more vulnerable to groping in a job that requires bending over beds, tubs, and floors.
Coverage of the Strauss-Kahn case has been voluminous. For those who want to learn more, news articles and commentary in the New York Times (link here) and the New Yorker (link here) are a good start.