Dozens accuse TripAdvisor of covering up sexual assaults; petition demands policy change

[UPDATE]: TripAdvisor has released an updated statement regarding the petition. The following is their latest statement in full:

The health and safety of travelers is a responsibility TripAdvisor takes very seriously. TripAdvisor exists as an information and review platform for travelers to share their experiences, including incidents of assault.

With respect to the petition, TripAdvisor absolutely disagrees with the premise of the accusations made. It’s a horrible tragedy when someone experiences a safety issue like a sexual or physical assault. In fact, for more than a decade, TripAdvisor has enabled survivors of sexual assault to courageously tell their stories, which have in turn served as warnings to millions of travelers across the globe. We continuously work to find the right balance between honoring a survivor’s privacy and making the TripAdvisor platform helpful to travelers.  

The end of the petition calls for TripAdvisor to take action to protect travelers from sexual assault, however, the reality is that we have already taken a number of proactive steps to iterate and improve our policies, processes and product to better inform travelers when these horrible instances of sexual assault occur. We believe it’s our duty to provide the global travel community with access to as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions. More recently, we improved our policies, moderation processes and made enhancements to our product to better inform travelers about safety issues, inclusive of sexual assault. A few points for consideration:

·         TripAdvisor is an information-sharing platform. We exist as a means for travelers worldwide to share their first-hand experiences about their journey – good or bad. We list open tourism businesses and give travelers the right to write in order to inform or warn others.

·         We believe it would be a disservice to the public to remove these business listings, and therefore withhold valuable information. Allowing a business to operate in the shadows without having a transparent record of travelers’ experiences at that location potentially puts others at risk.

·         Over ten years ago, we made changes to our content moderation process to enable survivors of sexual assault to more easily post about their experiences on TripAdvisor. Today, there are thousands of reviews about traveler safety incidents and issues – inclusive of sexual assault – posted on TripAdvisor.

·         We are actively collaborating with experts in traveler safety to make sure we’re doing our best to serve and inform the global travel community. Recent steps we have already taken include:

o    We created a notification system on TripAdvisor listings to alert travelers about recent media stories concerning safety issues at a business. Notifications are applied on a case-by-case basis to a business listing when media reports exist, and we don’t have reviews readily available on the listing reflective of the safety issue.

o    We will not take display advertising from businesses that have a health and safety notification on their listing.

o    Over a decade ago, we changed the application of our publishing guidelines to ensure any survivor who wanted to write a review about a sexual assault could – and still can today.

o    When we become aware of a traveler review that notes a safety issue (such as sexual assault) and cannot be posted because it doesn’t meet our guidelines, we proactively contact the traveler via email to ensure they have the information needed to resubmit their review so that it can be posted.

o    Every review posted on TripAdvisor is searchable and available to consumers worldwide.

o    And, we are continually looking at other solutions to make traveler safety reviews even more visible than they organically are today.

Lastly, we know there is always more to do to better inform travelers. TripAdvisor continues to iterate on new and better ways to make important health and safety information more visible and available to protect travelers. We will be sharing more information in the coming days about the ways in which we are continuing to evolve our policies, processes and product to be sure we are helping to keep travelers safe.”

The original article, first published Tuesday at FoxNews.com, reads as follows:.

TripAdvisor is being accused by dozens of users of covering up sexual assaults after a petition revealed the platform refused to remove a business from its site, even though an employee had been accused of raping a woman.

The alleged victim, who goes by K.K. to protect her anonymity, brought the company’s policy to light via a Change.org petition that has so far received 140,633 signatures — just shy of its 150K goal.

In the petition, which aims to change how TripAdvisor handles sexual assault, K.K. claims she was raped by a tour guide that she had found on TripAdvisor while on an international trip. According to K.K., the man had “stellar reviews” on the site, prompting her to choose him.

After the alleged sexual assault, K.K. said she contacted police, hired a lawyer and went through an “invasive medical examination,” as well as contacted TripAdvisor to remove the man’s page.

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“My assault was deeply traumatic and probably one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced. But the humiliation I was put through when I turned to TripAdvisor for help was almost worse. When I asked for help warning other tourists about my attacker, the company simply suggested I leave a review,” K.K. writes in the petition. According to an interview with The Guardian, K.K. said TripAdvisor sent her five links of other reviews detailing sexual assault committed at different hotels around the world to show her how to leave her own. A TripAdvisor spokesperson confirmed to Fox News that the company asked her to leave a review, and offered to show her how to make an anonymous account.

I’m just one of countless women who’ve been ignored or mistreated by TripAdvisor after reporting a sexual assault at a business on their site."

— K.K.

TripAdvisor operates as the largest travel site in the world, with 456 million people visiting every month to post reviews and search for travel recommendations. Their response to K.K. prompted her to speak out about their policy, which she says is not “protect[ing] its users.”

“I’m just one of countless women who’ve been ignored or mistreated by TripAdvisor after reporting a sexual assault at a business on their site. In the era of #MeToo, this company is not taking violence against women seriously,” she writes.

Since putting up the petition, K.K. wrote that she worked with The Guardian to investigate over 40 allegations of assault against the businesses TripAdvisor had listed on its site.

“It wasn’t just me — sexual assault survivors around the world are being ignored by TripAdvisor,” K.K. wrote.

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In an interview with Fox News, TripAdvisor explained its policy was not to remove businesses from their site — even if employees are being investigated for serious or violent crimes.

“We are often asked why we don’t remove a business listing when something terrible happens. Having a business listing on our platform isn’t an endorsement of that business. What makes TripAdvisor different from other platforms is that it would be a disservice to the public to remove these listings, and therefore withhold valuable information. Allowing a business to operate in the shadows, without having a transparent record of travelers’ experiences at that location, potentially puts travelers at risk,” a TripAdvisor spokesperson said in a statement.

The travel site claims leaving the business pages up of those accused of assault are “helpful in warning the public so people can make an informed decision,” but K.K. asserts in her petition that even if she left a review, it would “quickly get lost among minor complaints about the guide.”

K.K. also claimed that, in addition to forcing her to “relive the painful details” of the assault, posting about it publically could endanger her by putting her “in a place where my assailant could likely find me.”

"Even a brief, non-descriptive mention that a traveler experienced an assault can serve as a powerful warning to the global travel community."

— TripAdvisor spokesperson

TripAdvisor typically lists reviews chronologically and positions accommodations based on their star rating.

Trip Advisor has fielded complaints over how it handles sexual assault before. In 2017, the company said it would begin adding warning tags to hotels that had been reported to have “health, discrimination and safety issues,” although the company does not specifically label what violations the hotel was accused of and the warning tags only typically only remain for a period of three months, The Guardian reported.

TripAdvisor told Fox News the amount of time a warning notification remains on a business is “determined on a case-by-case basis.”

Regardless of the warning tag, however, the business’ star rating does not appear to be affected. According to The Guardian, a resort in Jamaica still had its 4.5 star rating, even after an employee was accused by a female guest of raping her. She left a comment on the site — but it was buried under more than 5,000 reviews.

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TripAdvisor said in the statement to Fox News that it is not “promoting businesses” that are on its site.

“It’s a horrible tragedy when someone experiences a safety issue like a sexual or physical assault. TripAdvisor exists as an informational review platform for travelers to post their experiences, including incidents of assault,” the statement read.

“TripAdvisor believes that every person impacted by a traveler 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 traveler experienced an assault can serve as a powerful warning to the global travel community."

TripAdvisor went on to say it is making moves to better serve the community and working “to find the right balance between honoring a victim’s privacy and making sure our platform is helpful to travelers.”

“TripAdvisor continues to iterate on new and better ways to make important health and safety information more visible and available to protect travelers. The health and safety of travelers is a responsibility we take very seriously. We believe that empowering the global travel community with as much information as possible to inform their decisions is an important role we play as a business in keeping people safe.”