NEW YORK – Hotel housekeepers say they often feel a twinge of fear when they slide the keycard, turn the door handle and step into a room to clean it. What will they find?

For Argelia Rico, it was a naked man who touched himself as he ogled her. For Kimberly Phillips, it was a pair of dogs that tore into her leg.

Last week, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was charged with chasing a housekeeper around his $3,000-a-night penthouse suite and forcing her to perform oral sex at the Sofitel New York Hotel.

But labor groups and hotel housekeepers have reported at least 10 other attacks in the U.S. in recent years, from the Washington, D.C., suburb of Gaithersburg, Md., to remote Grand Island, Neb.


Labor groups say many more are hushed up because the victims are illegal immigrants or because hotels are wary of scaring off guests. Many hotels laid off security staff during the recession, leaving workers even more vulnerable, they said.

“These customers think they can use us for anything they want because we don’t have the power that they have or the money that they have,” said Yazmin Vazquez, who works at a hotel in downtown Chicago.

Anthony Roman, a consultant based on New York’s Long Island who spent 30 years working security for hotels, said he saw dozens of incidents involving female room attendants, from drunken propositions to rape.

“They’re not an infrequent occurrence,” Roman said.

He said that while hotels try to make sure that housekeepers aren’t alone for their whole shift, “if you have a sexual predator by nature, all bets are off.”

At the luxury hotel in Toronto where Andria Babbington worked for 17 years, housekeepers especially hated doing “turn-down” service, which involves preparing beds for the night.

Some men would put money on the pillow, ask for sexual favors and tell the women they could take the money when they left, Babbington said.


Others took a more circuitous route to the same end: They would inquire about a housekeeper’s home country and how many family members the housekeeper was supporting. Then came some sympathetic-sounding questions about much the hotel paid them — followed by an offer of money for sex.

One guest bugged Babbington for days about having a threesome with his wife. She hid her nametag whenever she cleaned his room. If a housekeeper reacted angrily, the guest would find some reason to raise a stink, she said.

“When they complained, the management would send a fruit basket up to their room and offer them a discount on their next stay,” Babbington said.

Now a union organizer, the 45-year-old Babbington said she hears similar stories from workers at other hotels.

Rico, 38, a housekeeper at an Irvine, Calif., hotel, said she was cleaning a bathroom in 2009 when a guest entered and asked her to change his sheets. She did, then went to get her cleaning supplies out of the bathroom.

When she came out he was lying naked on the bed, watching her and touching himself, she said.


“When I told my supervisors, they didn’t do anything,” Rico said. “From then on, I had to ask a co-worker from the floor upstairs to accompany me so I could clean his room, because that really scared me.”

Phillips was cleaning rooms at a Hampton Inn in Lebanon, Ky., last year when she opened the door of Room 118 to find two dogs. The animals attacked her left leg, biting through to the bone, until a hotel guest fought them off with Phillips’ broom.

Phillips, 40, now uses a cane and walks with a limp. She has nerve damage in her leg and suffers from panic attacks.

“It’s completely changed my life,” she said. “Even to sit outside, I can’t do that: I’m afraid a dog is going to approach me.”

The Hampton Inn’s manager, Becky Edlin, said the hotel had tightened its security measures after the attack but declined to elaborate.

Many hotels have adopted policies aimed at protecting housekeepers, such as barring them from cleaning rooms while they are occupied. One standard practice is to prop the door open with a supply cart.

Vazquez, 40, says she wears extra clothes under her uniform and a jacket that comes down to her thighs. “Anything to hide your figure,” she said.

Some hotels will send only male employees to a room late at night if their computers show a guest is watching porn, said Carl Boger, dean of academics at the University of Houston’s college of hotel management.