Ep. 12 How To Stay Safe at a Hotel

Today’s topic is one that is super interesting and to me and honestly shocked me when I was doing my research. Have either of you guys ever taken a solo trip for vacation? Okay–Me either. BUT–I know there are several women out there who travel on a regular basis for work, some prefer taking a solo vacay for peace and tranquility and some still vacation with their friends or family but do find themselves alone at some point or another in their hotel. 

I’ve got a survivor story today that is going to blow your mind you guys. It’s something I just honestly never realized went on. We’re sharing the story of Chery Marchionda and the time she was sexually assaulted inside of her hotel room in the middle of the night. 

You guys this is an intense story–so are you ready for it? 

Okay–so just to give you guys a few facts I found that a majority of women say that they’ve experienced 1 safety-related incidence while traveling. According to “Global’s Portrait of American Travelers”, 64% of women in 2019 said safety was extremely desirable when taking a vacation, up from 51% in 2014. So, safety concerns are actually the second most important thing next to cost when it comes to obstacles when booking a vacation or traveling, according to the travel marketing agency. 

I haven’t personally experienced anything like this but I have heard of incidents, even recently of issues from international travels where people have run into these types of issues. But Cheri’s story is one that honestly stopped me in my tracks and REALLY made me think. 

Cheri Marchionda ‘s story: 

So, Cheri is a single mom to three and usually traveled about once per week with her job as an executive with a food manufacturing company. So, like normal, she was traveling alone for work in April 2014. 

She said her would-be attacker was a regular guest at the hotel bar there at the Embassy Suites in Iowa. She had seen him 2 of the previous nights of her stay at the hotel bar where he began flirting with her. She said he was visibly drunk and loud and so she tried to keep him at a distance. She said she went to her room that night and locked her door and went to bed. Her hotel room phone rang and he said “do you want to hang out?” and she said “no” and that’s when she said, “how did you get this number?” His response was “I have friends.” Gross right?  So she said she thought she was safe and knew her door was locked so she honestly didn’t feel the need for concern. Well as it turns out, this man got access to her room and proceeded to sexually assault her for 2 hours!! He gained access by approaching the front desk and obtaining a key to her room without any security checks or identification. The next thing she said she remembers was feeling someone touching her leg and waking her up. She said it took her a second to realize where she was, you know like when you’re half asleep and think “where am I?” So as she was waking up she realized there was a man in her room and she had no idea who he was. He ended up using his key to access her room and when he initially tried to enter he was stopped because Cheri had applied a safety bolt to her door. So you guys–he was really bold–he went back down to the front desk and asked for a maintenance man to help him get inside of her room where they then proceeded to help this man WITHOUT ANY ID OR SECURITY CHECKS! How insane is that? It was the middle of the night and he weaseled his way into Cheri’s room. She said he assaulted her for over 2 hours you guys. I CAN’T IMAGINE. She said she was terrified. She said she honestly thought she was screaming and kicking but she was so physically and emotionally afraid that she was frozen. She said she was always confident in herself feeling like she was a “strong woman” who was an experienced traveler but that night–she just wanted to survive this horrific attack. After all, she was a single mom to 3 kids that she needed to get home to. So she said finally she told the man she was going to throw up. He told her “you’re not going to throw up, you’ll be fine.” So she somehow stumbled into the living area of the room and looked over and realized he was gone. She said she quickly put a chair behind the door and instantly ran into the bathroom to take a shower. She said she just scrubbed and scrubbed and cried for who knows how long. She said she didn’t instantly call the police because she was just so shocked and disgusted and just found herself crying in the tub that night after this all happened. 

Cheri’s attacker was later arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison. She also filed a civil suit against the owners of the hotel due to negligence, carelessness, and recently settled for an undisclosed amount. She’s now on long term disability and said this entire event not only affected her but her entire family. 

She said that she found out that even hotels that have the best names in terms of the brand like “Hilton” or “Embassy Suites” present risks of harm. The main reason being that they’re not all owned by “Hilton”, etc. They can be owner-operated and franchises. So you don’t know what safety measures they’re taking and what they’re not. 

Cheri said she wanted to share her story so that people can be made more aware. She says locking your door just isn’t enough and the industry has got to find a better system to figure out how to keep people safe. 

Safety Tips for traveling women: Be aware of your surroundings, no matter where you’re going to whether it’s international or within the US or your home country. 

Always stay aware of who’s around you and what businesses you’re near. By being hyper-aware, this can deter criminals, who would prefer to attack someone who’s distracted.

Trust your gut. If you’re in a situation that doesn’t feel right, follow your instincts.

Whenever possible, bring another person with you when you’re traveling. Travel in pairs or groups whenever you can. Most people avoid attacking groups of people. 

Don’t provide your name out loud. If the front desk calls your room # out loud, request a different room. Hand your info on a paper to the front desk worker. 

Cheri now uses a portable door lock to help herself feel a little safer on the road. She carries two in case something happens and always requests no connecting doors. 

Use a simple rubber doorstop. They’re small enough and compact to travel no matter if you’re flying or driving to your destination. 

When you’re in an elevator don’t push your floor first. If someone gets out on your floor, let them exit and continue the elevator ride until you feel safe. 

A few extra tips from Amanda. I used to work at a Hotel, and I’m super surprised to hear that this man was let in to a room that was not his. At our hotel, and I like to think this is the norm for most hotels, but it was policy that we called the person staying in the room to verify that they were expecting a guest. In fact, it was a very strict policy and I was told I could be fired if it was found out that I didn’t do this. It takes 30 seconds, and it could prevent something like this from happening, so it’s definitely worth it. 

A few other tips: Make friends with the staff! If you travel to the same hotels frequently, or if you’re going to be there a while (or even if you’re not) take the time to talk to staff when they’re free. Get to know them, and ask them questions about the city, things to do, etc, etc. They will remember you, (and are likely to give you free things if they can) but most importantly, they would notice if you feel uncomfortable at the bar. And they would notice if someone was asking for a key to your room. 

Let them know up front when you check in that you are not expecting guests and they should not give your room number out to anyone. Ask them to make a note in your account or at least let the rest of the staff know as well that you are not joining anyone on this trip. And it wouldn’t hurt to ask them to call you if someone is asking for your room number for any reason. 

If you are having food delivered, walk down to the lobby to get it, don’t let the delivery person stop at the front desk to ask which way your room is! (This happened to me a lot, and I still called to verify that they were expecting food, and then allowed the delivery person up.) 

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