Another week, another horror story about the sharing economy making a victim out of someone somewhere in the world. This time it's the story of 19-year-old Jacob Lopez who traveled to Madrid and rented a room from an Airbnb host who turned out to be a trans female who ultimately sexually assaulted him. You may have caught wind of the tale, which broke via the New York Times over the weekend, and it was used in an opinion piece to argue that Airbnb, like the regular hotel industry, might want to consider taking greater responsibility in situations when a guest might be in danger.
In the case of Lopez, his side of the story was that he was locked into a room by the Airbnb host who was "pressing him to submit to a sexual act." Scared out of his mind he called his mother back in the U.S. who in turn called Airbnb, and they would not give her the host's address and referred her to local police, whom she was not able to reach. After that, her calls to her Airbnb contact went to voicemail. Meanwhile in Madrid, this Airbnb host was allegedly "rattling knives around in the kitchen drawer," and telling Lopez he'd better "take off his pants unless he wanted to sleep in the streets without his belongings." He hasn't revealed exactly what happened next, but he was assaulted, and considered possibly killing the woman before she tried to kill him. He managed to escape by making up a story about meeting friends nearby who knew where he was staying and who would come try to find him unless he found them first. He's now in trauma therapy back in his home state of Massachusetts.
The host told police that she did nothing wrong, and all that transpired was a consensual sex act, and Lopez was simply transphobic. As the Times notes, we're all more inclined to believe Lopez, because, "If [the host is telling the truth], filing a false police report and telling the story publicly would be an unlikely way to bury a regrettable experience."
The Boston Globe reached out to Airbnb about Lopez's case, and they responded saying that of the 70,000 Airbnb guests in Spain that same weekend, Lopez’s situation was “unique." But they add that “one incident is too many, and while no industry has a 100 percent safety record, that’s what we strive for."
The company says that they're now making sure all their phone operators know to call police directly themselves when there is a crime in progress.
Airbnb of course doesn't have its own police force, or security personnel on the ground in every locale, but the case is certainly a scary one that would make people think twice (again) about renting rooms from strangers. Airbnb hosts, of course, can't all be vetted until enough guests have stayed with them, and complained. But the liability has to reside somewhere when they're profiting, no?