UPDATED: How a viral tweet thread about a Black woman's hotel stay sparked calls to combat human trafficking.

·7 min read
Black woman latching her door
Maya Angelique's story of an attempted break-in at a DC hotel is inspiring other women to share their experiences.Robin Gentry
  • Twitter user Maya Angelique shared a post that went viral, saying that somebody attempted to break into her room at a DC hotel.

  • But the hotel said the incident was not an "illegal attempt to gain access. It was a team member error."

  • Nonetheless, Angelique's viral post led thousands to sign a petition for an investigation into possible human trafficking at the hotel.

This story has been updated to include statements from the public relations firm representing the hotel that was named in the alleged incident.

In a viral Twitter thread, a woman — who goes by the name Maya Angelique on Twitter — says that, while staying at a DC hotel on Saturday, October 9, a man attempted to break into her room.

She wrote that she was taking a shower around 1:30 am when a man "tried to violently break into my room."

"He somehow had a KEY to open my door," Maya Angelique wrote on Twitter. "He successfully opened my room door, repeatedly hitting the door stop and screaming 'open the fuckin door let me in.'"

She wrote that the man ran away, at which point she called the front desk. She says the front desk informed her that the man was with housekeeping.

Angelique on Twitter said the man ran away, at which point she called the front desk. She alleged they informed her that the man was with housekeeping.

Angelique continued on Twitter that she did not believe this attendant, calling her reaction "very much like she was fully aware of what was happening and she did not expect to be caught."

But a public relations firm claiming to represent the hotel says this was not an attempted break-in or housekeeping but, rather, the result of "a team member error."

In a statement sent to Insider, the hotel explained that Angelique's "check-in process was not completed properly. This led to the room appearing to be unoccupied in the system, and another couple was checked into the guest's room as a result. . . . the couple was not attempting to break into the room as it had been mistakenly registered to them."

The hotel acknowledged that this "rightfully startled the guest," but said that Angelique's stay was refunded and she was moved to another room. Angelique did not respond to Insider's requests for comment.

Though the hotel insists Angelique's experience was the result of a "team member error," sex trafficking is nonetheless a significant problem in Washington, DC.

And reaction to the tweet is sparking calls to combat human trafficking nationwide, with Black women especially vulnerable.

In response to the viral thread, Philomena Wankenge, co-founder of Freedom Fighters DC, an advocacy group dedicated to pursuing justice for Black DC residents, created a petition calling for sustained public attention and an investigation into possible human trafficking at the hotel.

Wankenge told Insider she "started the petition because of how little people pay attention to trafficking, even within our own community,"

"It's real and it's scary out here and this needs to be paid attention to," she said.

The petition, which as of Monday has been signed by nearly 25,000 people, comes after reports that soon followed from other users saying they had similar experiences or witness accounts.

Hotels can be common settings for sex trafficking

According to the Human Trafficking Institute, a research organization dedicated to ending this form of sexual exploitation and violence, there were 33 active cases of human trafficking around the DC region in 2020.

This number is likely an undercount as many of these cases go unreported, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Though sexual violence affects people of all races, Black girls and women are especially vulnerable. A report from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation found 40% of sex trafficking victims are Black women.

The "hypersexualization" and treatment of Black girls and women as older than they are contributes to increased rates of violence against them, according to The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community.

The center, which provides resources for women grappling with sexual and domestic violence, reports that one in four Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18 and one in five Black women are survivors of rape.

K.

Hotels can be common settings for sex trafficking, partly because "traffickers often take advantage of the privacy and anonymity accessible through the hospitality industry," according to the US Department of Homeland Security.

"We're seeing hotels being involved in these criminal cases in the fact patterns that are showing up much more than they're showing up as defendants," Alyssa Wheeler, associate legal counsel at the Human Rights Institute, told Insider.

Wheeler added that the institute has seen a "dramatic increase" since 2019 of victims of sex trafficking suing hotels in civil cases for "facilitating trafficking and allowing it to happen on their premises."

Last year, a plaintiff named S.Y. filed a lawsuit against the hotel's franchisor.

S.Y., a victim of sex-trafficking, alleged that employees at a Florida Comfort Inn Hotel "failed to prevent and/or take steps to prevent" this sexual violence from happening.

The lawsuit remains ongoing.

The hotel franchsior told Insider in an emailed statement that it had tried "repeatedly since last week to reach" Angelique, noting that the hotel "conducted a full review and investigation of the incident.

"While not offering details of their findings, the hotel franchisor did claim that "based on initial findings," they determined "there was no criminal or illegal activity involved in the incident."

Other women are sharing their experiences and raising awareness.

Maya Angelique's Twitter thread prompted others to share, saying they had had similar experiences during stays at hotels nationwide.

Twitter users pointed to the online review of a user who wrote that he and his wife saw "a girl getting dragged unconscious with no shoes or belongings with her into the elevator" at a different location of the same hotel brand in DC.

Another user shared a picture of what she claimed to be a receipt from the hotel's bar, which had the phrase "girl by herself" alongside her drink order.

Women are especially coming forward, speaking out to validate the experiences that, until recently, they didn't know they shared.

Another woman, K,* said that while she was staying at the same hotel the week before Angelique's alleged incident, a man tried to enter her and her fiancé's hotel room.

The hotel said in its statement that it had "no record of any incident resembling the one she described."

K., who requested that Insider not publish her full name due to privacy concerns, said that it was only after reading Angelique's post that she began to think that she was "lucky something didn't happen to me."

"It made me think about all the times I was alone in the hotel and what could have happened if I was in the shower in the room by myself when the person who said they were housekeeping showed up in the middle of the night," K. told Insider.

"As a woman and especially as Black woman you always think about how you could be kidnapped," she added.

K. echoed what experts often note. When Black women go missing, their cases often go "unreported or underreported." She cautions that "makes them a target for people who want to do malicious things and think no one will care."

Angelique, on Twitter, said the experience has been "triggering," particularly since she knows people who've been affected by sex trafficking and because she's been receiving death threats since posting about the alleged incident.

Her thread has inspired renewed caution among women, especially those traveling alone. Many are sharing links to door stoppers and other safety devices and urging women to take added precautions wherever they stay.

"Maya's story made me realize things could have potentially been a lot worse than I could have imagined," K. said.

"The first night I got there I didn't put the stopper on the door. I'll never wait to put the stopper on again," she added.

Whether Maya Angelique's experience was the result of a booking error, Wankenge hopes that interest in her post will led to sustained efforts to combat sex trafficking.

"We get covered. It's a story, but then there's no type of followup afterwards," Wankenge said. "There's no type of law or advocacy, even from our own leaders and communities, beyond the grassroots organizations."

Correction: The witness account of an alleged dragging occurred at a different location of the hotel chain in Washington, DC. An earlier version of this story erroneously noted the incident took place at the same location.

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