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Airbnb horror story reveals safety issues for lodging site

A 19-year-old Massachusetts man is speaking out after an alleged sexual assault by an Airbnb host to warn others to take precautions.
/ Source: TODAY

A 19-year-old Massachusetts man is speaking out in the hope that his story involving an alleged sexual assault by an Airbnb host will make others take precautions before using the service.

Jacob Lopez claims he was locked in a room by his Airbnb host in Madrid and sexually assaulted, which was first reported by The New York Times. While he was locked in, he said he was frantically sending texts to his mother, Micaela Giles, who was thousands of miles away in Massachusetts.

"I kept telling my mom, 'I need help, I need help, I need help,'' Lopez told Kristen Dahlgren on TODAY Monday. "And she was telling me that they're not helping, they're not helping."

"I was in a panic,'' Giles said on TODAY. "I was frantically texting my husband, who was not home at the time. I was frantically texting him and my brother, trying to find out how to call for help."

Giles claims she called Airbnb but the company refused to tell her where her son was and directed her to call the local police in Madrid. Lopez claims he couldn't get the address to her because the Internet had been disconnected. When she called the Madrid police, she said she got a recording in Spanish that she couldn't understand and kept getting disconnected. When she called Airbnb back, she said her calls went unanswered.

"It's hard for me to imagine any human being, including the multiple employees that I spoke with, not being willing to intervene and offer help under those circumstances,'' she said.

The transgender host, who was born male and lives as a woman, denied threatening Lopez and said the sex was consensual, according to the The New York Times. Airbnb issued a statement to NBC regarding the incident, saying "The weekend that this occurred, over 800,000 people stayed on Airbnb around the world, and 70,000 were staying on Airbnb in Spain. But even one incident is one too many, and while no industry has a 100 percent safety record, that's what we strive for. We are clarifying our policies so that our team will always contact law enforcement if we are made aware of an emergency situation."

Airbnb also will be adding an emergency contact during booking and making it easier to share itineraries. Travel experts also advise to make sure you have a local emergency number and to speak with the Airbnb host beforehand. Lopez said he did speak with his host in Madrid before traveling there. He had previously had a great experience with Airbnb in Brazil last year before deciding to travel to Spain using the service.

"If I could do it differently, I'd just trust my instincts more, about little things that don't really check out,'' he said. "I hope nobody else has to go through what I did."

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