A popular website that provides travel and hotel recommendations has started branding resorts and hotels with a red badge in cases where sexual assault have been reported on those properties
The $1.5 billion TripAdvisor recently came under pressure after an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel showed that TripAdvisor was removing comments made by people who were reporting first-hand accounts of assaults they’d experienced at hotels and resorts.
The new red badges will cast Massachusetts-based TripAdvisor into a murky new territory. Rather than provide a forum for reviews on room service, cleanliness, and other common travel hang-ups, an internal company committee will now be responsible for fielding sexual assault claims and then making judgement calls on whether to attach a badge to the hotel or resort.
The company told CBS the badges are meant to be informative and not punitive. They’ll be visible for up to three months, with the possibility of sticking around longer if issues with a property persist. TripAdvisor will also rely, at least in part, on media reports of assault when considering when to add a badge.
The Journal-Sentinel investigation into TripAdvisor began in July, when a Wisconsin university student died mysteriously at a resort in Mexico. The newspaper subsequently noticed TripAdvisor had removed multiple reviews that described situations in which the reviewer had experienced assault. TripAdvisor claims some reviews were removed because, at the time, they included wording that did not adhere to the company’s “family-friendly language” policy.
That policy was changed in the years after the incident. “Over the last several years, this policy change has yielded many first-hand accounts of serious incidents being published on the platform,” the company says in a statement. “We believe any first-hand experience should be posted to our site as a means to communicate to other consumers looking for information on where they should travel.” US senator Tammy Baldwin has recently requested that the federal government investigate whether TripAdvisor is prioritizing profits over providing an honest forum for travel reviews.
Sexual assault is not uncommon in hotel and resort environments. On cruise ships—often referred to a floating cities—data and reports show assault occurs regularly. There were 92 reported crimes on cruise ships that embark and disembark in the US in all of 2016 or the first quarter of 2017. Of those, close to 70% were for sexual assault.