Has anyone encountered a similar guest that used your property as a brothel?
An Australian woman from New South Wales used Airbnb to transform someone else’s home into a “makeshift brothel,” the Daily Telegraph reported. The host had regularly Airbnb’d her house without sounding any alarms. This time, however, neighbors grew suspicious when a “steady stream of men” began entering the house within a few hours of the alleged prostitute making herself at home.
Not so fast, says Airbnb. The guest contacted the host through Airbnb, but reportedly forked over the payment outside the website. Per Airbnb rules, the entire booking process must occur through their platform.
Airbnb’s Australian general manager, Sam McDonagh, speaking in carefully crafted talking points, told The Daily Telegraph: “When you book a reservation through our secure platform, you receive the benefits of Airbnb’s global trust and safety program and $1 Million Host Guarantee. It’s why there is a reminder to only book through Airbnb next to every message thread. We have been in contact with the host to offer our support.”
In this case, we’re Team Airbnb. If, because you’re feeling greedy about service fees and commissions, you take cash from a stranger to rent out your apartment, them’s the breaks.
More to the point, this pearl-clutching news item isn’t exactly the first of its kind. An April 2014 New York Post story began with the sentence: “Hookers are using the controversial Airbnb home-sharing Web site to turn prime Manhattan Apartments into temporary brothels.”
One “call girl,” who spoke anonymously with the Post, explained that Airbnb was cheaper and more discreet than such fancy hotels as The Waldorf. Her escort service had the system down pat: They rented out apartments in Manhattan’s stodgiest neighborhoods for up to a week at a time, evading scrutiny by supplying employees with prepaid debit cards and having them book rooms through personal Airbnb profiles.
The Post’s source estimated pimps can save up to $300 each night by forgoing hotels. (The escort commands $500 an hour, and Airbnb rentals cost $200 to $400 a day.)
This is neither surprising nor shocking. The Airbnb business model is gradually becoming the norm in the hospitality industry. Hotel rooms are cheaper than ever, in part, industry experts claim, because travelers are looking at Airbnb before checking out hotels, which are saddled with high local occupancy taxes.
It follows, then, that sex workers would migrate away from hotels, too. A 2014 Urban Institute study found that female sex workers conducted 66 percent of business in hotels or motels. The study was based on interviews with 260 convicted pimps and prostitutes from eight U.S. cities. Maybe outside of the big cities, where rented room are cheaper and clientele have lowered expectations, Airbnb won’t made a dent. But expect this trend to continue in the country’s more expensive urban areas.
And anyway, if you rent out your home to strangers, there’s a good chance they’re going to have sex in your bed (and eat your truffles and sample your perfume, if they so choose). That’s the covenant between host and guest.
Rather than wringing our hands over Airbnb’s supposed facilitation of paid sex, let’s focus on more important matters like sex trafficking, underage prostitution and coercive labor. Let consenting adults act like adults. Just change your sheets when they’re gone.