Airbnb's impact on a city is proving a divisive issue around the globe — does the company contribute to the housing crisis by taking units off the market, or does it allow for part-time hosts to remain in their homes by supplementing income with occasional guest stays? Or neither? Or both? Well, while people on either side of the home-rental divide battle it out, one group is unequivocal in its support for San Francisco-based Airbnb: Sex workers.
In many ways it makes perfect sense — trying to operate out of a San Francisco hotel would likely draw the unwanted attention of the front desk, and Airbnbs are spread throughout the city and easy to book at the last minute. One sex worker spoke with CBS 5, and emphasized how Airbnb units provide an opportunity to move away from working on the street.
“Airbnb is a simple way for women who don’t have an enormous amount of money to transition into indoor work,” the worker, who wished to remain anonymous, explained.
A member of the Erotic Services Providers’ Union of California told the channel that some neighborhoods are better than others for renting out Airbnbs for sex work.
“Not Nob Hill or Sea Cliff — a place where there’s a broader mix of people, perhaps a higher volume of street traffic,” she noted.
We reached out to Airbnb, and asked if the company works with any anti-trafficking organizations to identify potential sex work in rentals, and if they have had any reports of prostitution happening in Bay Area rentals. They got back to us, but notably did not address the issue of whether or not they've uncovered instances of this in the Bay.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy for issues like these," replied Airbnb spokesperson Alison Schumer. "When hosts and guests sign up for our service they agree to comply with local law. When we are made aware of issues, we work fast to help take care of hosts and guests and permanently remove the people who are intentionally violating our policies. Our trust and safety team works with safety groups around the world, including No Traffick Ahead, a Bay Area coalition that works between law enforcement and the hospitality industry to help train employees on identification and prevention of trafficking."
Schumer further notes that the company intends to get involved with the Crimes Against Children Conference — a group that focuses on "investigation, prosecution, and treatment of crimes against children."
A similar situation made news in Sweden, where Vice reported earlier today that sex workers are using Airbnb to get around anti-pimping laws. In that case, the company issued a similar statement condemning the practice.
"Over 70 million guests have stayed with Airbnb," the statement reads, "and problems for the hosts and guests are incredibly rare. If problems arise, we work quickly to take care of our hosts and guests and to permanently shut down users who abuse our platform and community."
While the appeal of working out of an Airbnb is perhaps obvious for sex workers, that hosts could find their homes used for this purpose is sure to unsettle at least some of them. But such are the risks of the sharing economy, right?