Massachusetts Man Alleges That He Was Raped At Airbnb In Madrid After The Company Refused To Act On Pleas For Help From His Mother

UnknownAirbnb is a growing phenomenon as people rent out their homes and apartments as an alternative to hotels: often giving visitors more room and costing less than hotels. (For the record, we recently used Airbnb to rent a house in California) A recent case in Madrid has shown the inherent danger in such sites. On July 4th, Jacob Lopez called his mother on her cellphone in a desperate call for help. He said that when he arrived at his Airbnb, he found his host in the apartment who locked him in a room and demanded sex from him. The mother, Micaela Giles reportedly tried to get Airbnb to act but they refused and told her to call police.

The mother called but its employees would not give her the address and would not call the police. Instead they gave her the number of the Madrid police, which turned out to reach a recording in Spanish that she did not understand. When she tried to call Airbnb back, she simply reached voice mail.

In the meantime, her son was allegedly raped and eventually says that he was able to convince his host to let him go. He returned to Massachusetts and is in trauma therapy. The host was born a male but lives as a woman. She has denied threatening Lopez and says that the sex was consensual and that Lopez is transphobic.

It seems a rather curious way to dealing with transphobia: to repeatedly call for help and then file an official report.

It is not clear what the Spanish police are going to do with regard to the alleged culprit but the case does raise the question of the liability for Airbnb. I can understand the reluctance to share an address with a caller for privacy reasons. However, there are a host of things that Airbnb could do from contacting the host to contacting the police for the mother to staying involved with the mother to help in a myriad of different ways. The responses, as described by the mother, seem grossly negligent.

Lopez says that he had a good experience with Airbnb in Brazil but then faced the nightmare in Madrid. After locking him in, the host allegedly told him to take his pants and tried to kiss him. By the time his mother realized that Airbnb would not help and that she would have to get the address from her son, she says that his host had cut off Internet access.

After the alleged assault,Lopez made up a story that he had friends nearby who would be looking for him or would call the police. He says that the host relented and let him leave.

He gave a report to the police, who visited the host. He says that they expect the host to be exonerated by police. That seems a bit odd when you have not just the alleged victim but a witness in the mother with contemporaneous calls from her son. There are also calls to Airbnb. That is more than some “he said/she said” case.

For Airbnb’s part, the company had a curious response. It said that Airbnb wants sexual assault victims to be able to decide for themselves when, how or if to report a crime. Really? A mother calls to say that she just got a call from her son asking for help (the only source of such information) and you wanted to be sure that he wanted to report the crime? Airbnb added that it “believed that the assault had already taken place.” Again, so what? The mother was saying that her son was trapped and that there was a rapist in the unit.

Nick Papas, a company spokesman, “We realize we can learn a lot from this incident and we can do better.” Yes, Mr. Papas, there is clear since your company did nothing all. However, that learning curve may be hastened with a lawsuit.

On a side note, I recently had dealings with Airbnb when I tried to inquire with their media office about their registration process. I was surprised to find that people are asked to register through their email but, when you look at the details of what that means, Airbnb says that it includes the right “to manage your contacts.” When you hit the information link on what that means, it just repeats “manage your contacts.” For lawyers particularly, such a note is unnerving. I wrote to Airbnb to ask why they would have to have any access to contacts at all and why they did not explain what this meant. Airbnb did not answer despite my interest in writing about it. I am still interested in receiving a response since this would seem a barrier for many professionals but it also seems entirely unnecessary and opportunistic (You can register by use of a video, but that process was also crudely structured and odd to use. I used it but it lacked basic features to confirm that the video was submitted and information on the aspects of the process going forward).

39 thoughts on “Massachusetts Man Alleges That He Was Raped At Airbnb In Madrid After The Company Refused To Act On Pleas For Help From His Mother”

  1. bam bam
    It is an interesting point you make there… that somehow this kid and his family never even bothered to be prepared to contact police on his trip… A travelers tip, for sure.

  2. DBQ
    “What in the world has happened to us?”
    = = =
    We ran out of world to conquer by brute force of elephants and anvils…

  3. Did anyone ever pause to consider the possibility that this 19 year old kid–yes, kid–contacted his mother because he was in Spain and could not speak Spanish? I know that his last name is Lopez, but that doesn’t automatically mean that he is fluent in a foreign language like Spanish. I’m an adult, and I’m not sure that I would know how to summon emergency services over the telephone phone in a foreign country if I had little or no grasp of the language.

  4. apieceofblueksy
    “Another example of a heterosexual man… ”
    = = =
    Another? Like this is a widespread pandemic or something?

  5. Interesting…..

    THIS guy is a Massachusetts man

    while the guys in Florida in the article below are describe as being High School Students.

    Even though some of those in Florida are the same age as the Massachusetts guy. Why the difference in descriptions? Hmmmm?

    At the age of 19 you are certainly a MAN. A grown up. Personally, I think at the age of 16 you are also a ‘grown up’ and should be treated as one and responsible for your actions. Infantilizing grown up men AND women is only creating a society of dependent useless babies. Until recently people were married, had jobs and were starting families at the ages of 16 and most certainly 18 or 19. My husband’s father owned and operated a logging business at the age of 19 that employed 10 to 15 men and brought in million dollar contracts. He also had two children by then with a third on the way.

    Alexander the Great became King and conquoured the “known” world in his 20’s. Currently you are still considered a child dependent on your Mommy and Daddy’s insurance and it is normal to live in your parent’s basement at the age of 30. What in the world has happened to us?

  6. Lopez is 19 years old. He had previously traveled to Brazil. He now reports that on July 4, he was forced into non-consensual sex. He sent a series of text messages to his mother in Massachusetts to help him at that time. Something doesn’t add up. We need more information to decide who is at fault.

  7. I seriously question the wisdom of renting a home and/or apartment from a stranger, whether it’s in the US or abroad. No amount of prior contact, in the forms of interviews or discussions, will fully disclose with whom one will be dealing. Don’t kid yourself. Just because someone owns property and is capable of renting/leasing that property, it doesn’t mean that the person has any type of seal of approval. These owners haven’t been vetted, and, bear in mind, the owners of these various rental properties have keys and complete access to the home or apartment, which an unscrupulous individual could use at any time, for any purpose, even a nefarious one. Before I am the recipient of a barrage of criticism, allow me to state that I assume that the overwhelming majority of cases or instances go off without a hitch. Personally, I would think twice about entering into one of these transactions. My personal safety is far too important to risk just so I can save a few bucks on lodging. While crime can occur at any place and at any time, I will take my chances with the Marriott or the Hilton.

  8. Looks like alleged “progressives” here hate progress and love the old way of doing business. Status Quo Progressives. LOL! I have worked many a case of women sexually assaulted in mismanaged motels/hotels. You “progressives” can be so easily led.

  9. Why is this fart calling his mommy in America? I agree with Fogdog above.
    As for those who deal with Airbng or however ya spull it, I think you are taking too many chances. If you travel over seas then spend a bit more money and stay at a hotel chain. Kind of like uber cab drivers. Next we will be buying food off the internet.

  10. I just ended my account with Amazon.com after reading about their business practices. Now, there goes Air B&B. That’s the best way to hold companies with practices such as these to account. Far better that we vote with our feet than expecting the government to do it for us!

  11. Another example of a heterosexual man or a lesbian woman who doesn’t want to have sex with a (transgender) man, quickly being labeled “transphobic” by the male transgender aggressor.

  12. It looks like AirBnB is in for a civil if not criminal smack. Refusing to link the police with the address at the very least seems like a slam dunk for a decision against the company. They have, through their asinine responses, already lost a terrific amount of credibility, business, soon money.

  13. Here’s what I hope doesn’t occur. You see, the Hotel industry HATES services like this. They try and get local, regional, and national governments to put them out of business on the grounds that they are not regulated. It’s the same tactic cab companies use against Uber and Lyft. It is an old industry kicking, screaming, and whining about internet based companies. Companies like Expedia have decimated the travel agency business. That’s just the way it works.

  14. I hope the Cohen Brothers read this post. It could be a plot for one of their flicks.

  15. AirBnB is fairly new. I’ve used it just once. But, I have used VRBO many times for over a decade. What has helped me to hardly ever get a place I didn’t like or love[and I’ve rented @ least 25 houses] are a couple tips. Firstly, I want a full array of photos. Secondly, I want some good reviews. Finally, I ALWAYS talk w/ the owner. VRBO stands for Vacation Rental By Owner. Sometimes the phone# is for a rental agency but they will suffice. Many times the posting has the address, but if it doesn’t, that’s the first question I have for the owner. I check it out the house and surrounding area on Google Earth. AirBnB has a nicer website, but I still prefer VRBO.

  16. If the fellow could call his mother, why couldn’t he call authorities locally who could respond?

  17. Airbnb just learned a valuable lesson.

    When a client with a megaphone asks, you respond.

    Can’t quantify the impact, but Airbnb will definitely feel the sting of this column.

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