In 2017, a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that TripAdvisor was deleting reviews that included details of sexual assault and rape. The company admitted it was removing reviews of this nature, and subsequently launched a system that labelled some hotels with these types of reports. But it looks like the travel website is still failing to properly handle sexual assault allegations on its platform—it is treating them both casually and insensitively while promoting hotels with reports of rape.
According to a report from the Guardian published on Tuesday, two women said that they were raped by individuals who worked at businesses that were being promoted on TripAdvisor. The report also detailed the experience of one woman, whom the Guardian referred to as “K,” who said she was raped by a staff member at a hotel promoted on the travel site.
K told TripAdvisor that she was raped by a tour guide at that hotel. The company didn’t remove the hotel, but they reportedly told her she could leave a review on its website detailing the incident and even sent her links to other reviews detailing rape on the website as templates for her own account. A TripAdvisor spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement that when reviews including sexual assault issues aren’t approved, the team will reach out to the individual “and ensure they have the information needed to resubmit their review so that it can be posted.”
“I was in disbelief,” K told the Guardian. “Am I seriously being asked to recall the humiliating details of my own sexual assault? Was this global company pushing me to relive my trauma on their forum for everyone to see and comment, or worse of all for the perpetrator who is still out there, to respond to me, troll me? It left me feeling shattered, hopeless and alone.”
K did end up writing a review detailing the sexual assault, but because she didn’t write it in first-person, the company didn’t approve it. It’s still pending. The company reportedly told K that she could leave a review on a “burner account under an anonymous name,” according to the Guardian.
TripAdvisor told Gizmodo in a statement that it “believes that every person impacted by a traveller safety issue, including sexual assault, has the right to write a first-hand account about their experience. Even a brief, non-descriptive mention that a traveller experienced an assault can serve as a powerful warning to the global travel community.” (Emphasis theirs.)
In what might be an overcorrection for allegedly censoring reviews that included accusations of rape and sexual assault, the travel website has taken nearly a full swing of the pendulum to what is still a shockingly inappropriate way to grapple with sexual assault allegations on its website—flippantly. It is taking one step forward by allowing reviews with rape allegations to remain on the platform, but it’s taking innumerable steps back by requiring survivors to relive the trauma on a platform, leaving them vulnerable to trolls and sceptics.
“TripAdvisor works to find the right balance between honouring a victim’s privacy and making sure our platform is helpful to travellers,” the company said in a statement, adding that it works with traveller safety experts as well as monitors media reports for “health and safety issues,” adding a warning on listings for businesses mentioned in these reports.
Even if individuals do leave a review painfully detailing their sexual assault, there’s not currently a system in place that prioritises that sensitive comment amid the other reviews. Instead, it can easily get lost among reviews about broken mini fridges and slow room service. The only known feature that currently flags businesses with reports of rape is the badge system, which includes a warning regarding “health, safety, and discrimination issues in all of the website’s travel categories” on the top of the page for up to three months.
It’s unclear how effective TripAdvisor’s current badge system is since it’s reliant on business receiving first-hand reviews detailing such allegations or from media reports. Given TripAdvisor’s history in dealing with survivors of rape, individuals may not feel comfortable reporting such traumatic experiences to or on the travel website.
“It’s a horrible tragedy when someone experiences a safety issue like a sexual or physical assault,” a TripAdvisor spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email. The spokesperson added that listing a particular business “isn’t an endorsement of that business” and that removing reviews that include accusations of sexual assault “would be a disservice to the public” that “potentially puts travellers at risk.