Note: This is a guest post by a friend who chose to remain anonymous, describing her recent experience at a New Orleans Hilton

On May 1st, robbers broke into my room at the Hilton New Orleans Hotel on St. Charles Avenue while I was asleep.  They took my phone, laptop, plugged-in power cord and mouse from the desk. Trying to fly back home without an ID was a challenge.  After three days of mental anguish, delayed flights and no phone or money, I was home and finally felt safe, or so I thought.   

After much needed good night’s sleep in my own bed, by my husband, a gym class sounded like a good idea to help me unwind.  The heightened adrenaline from the exercise reminded my body of the panic I have been feeling since the robbery and tears streamed down my face.  As I was lifting weights in a class packed with women working hard to build muscles and strength, a song came up.  Something about still being here despite all odds.  I thought, I am still here.  Better than being at the hospital.  Or the graveyard.  Because I easily could have gotten raped, severely beaten, disabled or killed.

Not thinking about what could have happened was not a choice I could make at the time.  My subconscious refused to just say “All is well.  I am fine.”  In reality, I was easily triggered and needed to embrace the thoughts rather than suppress them.  I had so many questions.  What was the lesson that higher forces were trying to teach me, if any?  How should I think about this experience?  How can I help myself feel better?  How can I help others not go through the same experience?

After somehow making it to the end of the class, I sat in my car and cried from my core.  I decided to pick up martial arts and learn self-defense.  Krav Maga, the Israeli martial art, sounded appealing.  It worked for Gal Gadot!  Maybe one day I will save someone just like she does in Wonder Woman.  Maybe this happened to me, so that I can learn how to fight and protect others.

Knowing that the robbers came as close as a foot from my head still haunts me.  They took everything of value in the room.  It was important to them to steal the full set including plugged power cords to maximize the profit from selling the stolen items.  The most haunting fact to-date is that the robbers unplugged my cell phone from the nightstand by my side, an arm’s length from my head.  More like a punch’s length in this case.  Or a I-will-easily-suffocate-you-with-a-pillow length.

How could this possibly have happened to me in the safety of a Hilton hotel?

Was it simply that Hilton, a 100-year old premiere hotel chain, was utterly unprepared?  They had no cameras on the floors, no physical security, an unlocked lobby door 24 hours a day, and a pregnant female to man the front desk at night.  I didn’t expect to pay hundreds of dollars to have the security of camping out!  Though, in all honesty, I have never been robbed while camping.

When I woke up at 1am and realized what had happened, the hotel staff told me they had no cameras on the floors or in elevators due to privacy protection concerns.  In addition, the elevators were accessible by anyone, anytime.  Technological advancements such as using your room key card to be able to take the elevator to your floor (only!) were not in place, likely because they cost money.  If technology could not increase safety, one would think some physical security would.  Instead, the night shift staff consisted of two women, one of whom was pregnant.

Or was what happened to me due to a bigger and more systemic issue?

I sure think so.

Hilton’s Cowardice and Concealment

The morning after the robbery, the empathetic and eloquent Hilton guest experience female manager went on about how for months on end she had been asking Hilton management for security guards and more surveillance, but to no avail.  As a fellow female traveler who travels alone often, she acknowledged the fear and trauma that I must feel.  Anyone would feel just as helpless as I did if their sense of safety was violated in their sleep.  My robber was likely not a small woman, so I stood zero chance surviving a physical attack.

No one from the all-male management team who talked to me exhibited a similar concern or vouched to do something about this in the future.  I did get paid back a depreciated insurance for the stolen items, but what about my stolen piece of mind?  The lack of follow up, apologies or any proactive customer experience remediation has been mind-boggling. Clearly, the safety and life of hotel guests as well as vulnerable staff members was of zero importance to Hilton.  But money is.  In the morning, Hilton had me pay the fee for the night of the robbery.

Additionally, the hotel was extremely uncooperative in sharing required footage of the front door camera, effectively concealing the identity of the thieves.  The most obvious reason behind this is that their reputation would be hurt, hitting their bottom-line, as people would think twice before staying there.  The sooner the robbery got swept under, the better.

Unfortunately, though, this will NOT be swept under.  As part of the police investigation, I came in touch with another female traveler who was also robbed at night and even whacked on her head when entering her hotel room at the same Hilton about a week before me.  The reality is that the number of Hilton’s victims is likely higher than two.

Police’s Impudence and Incompetence

One of my favorite quotes came from officer Brady from the New Orleans Police Department, District 8.  After slow rolling into the lobby an hour and a half after we called 911, he quickly concluded, “You must have not closed your door all the way.” Way to go, Sherlock!  You solved the crime.  And you sure know how to victim-blame!  I did for once forget to close the safety latch on my door, but that is no reason why anyone should be breaking into my hotel room without anything to stop them.

Next, officer Brady lied to me to avoid doing his job.  I had been tracking the thieves via iPhone location tracking and we knew they were at another nearby hotel, three blocks away.  Officer Brady said he was not allowed to go into hotels without a warrant.  Minutes later he left saying there was nothing he could do, essentially letting criminals pillage and rob other victims at three other hotels over the next four hours!  It honestly felt like criminals were being enabled to pillage hotels, because the police officer was too lazy to do his actual job.  Shockingly, cop Brady was back shortly after he left.  I thought maybe he reconsidered and decided to make himself useful.  Apparently, however, he had locked himself out of the car and needed to use the front desk phone to get help…I felt as if I were in a Simpsons episode with Police Chief Wiggum!

After weeks of calling the New Orleans police department and failing to connect with my assigned detective, I was losing hope in the justice system.  Finally, a friendly female detective picked up my case from my ghost detective and connected with me.  She was looking into my case as part of investigating the other Hilton robbery case.  Her energy, drive and smarts were refreshing.  Her compassion for single female travelers, recognition of the problem at hand and hard work were much appreciated.  While the case may not have been resolved, we now know more than we did before.  What I know is that most often only women will care for women and misfortunes that happen to them.

Fast forward to today.  I am still traumatized.  I have stayed in a hotel once since the incident, but I avoid hotels at all costs now.  I always latch my door and triple-check that it is locked.  I travel with an alarm doorstop and a portable door lock.  My family invested in an expensive security system for our home, so that I can sleep at night.  I tell all my friends that hotels do not have cameras or physical security.  I want to break the myth of hotel security, especially at premier hotels, so that people are aware.  Please call the hotel where you want to make your next reservation to confirm that they have physical or camera security.   Awareness is half the battle and living in a sense of false security perpetuated by deceitful hotel chains is not permissible.

I count my blessings every day, and every day I feel that this world is not organized for women and certainly not by women.  Women leaders are still few and far between, yet we know change often happens top down.  System design and controls are reflective of the perspectives of leaders.  To look out for one another we need more women to be in leadership positions, at least 50% of them to be exact.  It’s an old tune but one that must be carried on.  I feel cursed and blessed for being yet another woman singing it.

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