SEX

Another Sex Worker Accuses Airbnb Of Banning Her

Arianna Travaglini's account was deactivated—and she says it's because of her job

SEX
Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Jun 23, 2016 at 5:19 PM ET

For two weeks, Arianna Travaglini says she tried to book an Airbnb rental for an upcoming trip to Baltimore for the LGBT Pride celebrations, but hosts weren’t responding to her messages. When she clicked the “Instant Book” button, she kept getting error messages. So Travaglini, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, contacted Airbnb’s customer service team. On Wednesday, she says she received an email notifying her that her account had been disabled. The message read, “Please understand that we are not obligated to provide an explanation for the action taken against your account.”

But Travaglini thinks she knows why she’d been banned: She does sex work under the persona Andre Shakti, and the two names can be easily linked with a quick online search. “I think I was banned because they found out … that I do sex work,” she told Vocativ. “All it is is profiling.”

Travaglini has used Airbnb for over two years, under her legal name, and says she’s only ever gotten positive reviews from her hosts. “I have always used the website for leisure, vacation-related travel—never worked out of the location, never advertised that my other persona was going to be at the location,” she said. Travaglini also emphasizes that the sex work she does is strictly legal—she performs in pornography and works as a dominatrix, beating up and wrestling guys, as she puts it.

But again, never at an Airbnb rental. “I didn’t even have to work in an Airbnb, to see clients in an Airbnb, for me to be denied service, even after two and half years of stellar reviews,” she said.

Airbnb did not respond to a request for comment by press time—and there are, of course, other reason she could have been banned. But, Travaglini’s allegations aren’t the first such accusations against the platform.

In March, Julie Simone, a dominatrix, said her account was suddenly shuttered and she received an email from Airbnb reading, “After a routine review, and given information uncovered pursuant to online public records, we have determined that it is in the best interest of Airbnb, and for the users on our site, to deactivate your account permanently.” When asked about the incident, the company told Fusion, “As a general matter we constantly review our platform to ensure that the use of listings are in line with what our hosts and guests both expect.”

These cases follow several news stories about Airbnbs being used for sex work. A San Francisco radio station quoted a local sex worker calling Airbnb a “boon” to business and “a simple way for women who don’t have an enormous amount of money to transition into indoor work.” In Stockholm, there were similar reports. There have also been alarmist headlines like, “Pimps and hookers ditching hotels in favor of Airbnb rentals.” In at least one documented case, the porn industry has used an Airbnb rental for a shoot.

Amid all this coverage, Travaglini has heard rumors about sex workers being banned from Airbnb, but she thought of it as an “urban legend.” Then it happened to her. When she posted to Facebook last night about being booted, she wrote, “Wow. It actually happened. Airbnb disabled my account.” She added, “This is blatant discrimination, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Completely unacceptable.”

Airbnb’s Terms of Service states that the company can deactivate users’ accounts for receiving poor ratings or if the company “believes in good faith that such action is reasonably necessary to protect the safety or property of Members.” It also explicitly says, “We may, in our discretion and without liability to you, with or without cause, with or without prior notice and at any time, decide to limit, suspend, deactivate or cancel your Airbnb Account.”

This can be done, Airbnb’s terms say, without “explanation to you.” In other words, the company could have deactivated Travaglini for any number of reasons, and it doesn’t have to tell her why. She might never know for certain the reason the decision was made, so Travaglini is left with her best guess.

It wouldn’t be the first time a tech company has denied her service because of her job. In 2014, she crowdfunded money to travel to the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto, but Fundly.com and its payment processor WePay blocked her from receiving the funds she raised, thanks to prohibition of adult content.

This latest incident has once against burst what she describes as her progressive Northern California bubble. “It feels shitty,” said Travaglini, who identifies as queer. “It’s a nice little shitty reminder, especially coming so soon after the Orlando Pulse shooting, that there are multiple parts of my identity that can still be actively discriminated against without repercussion in supposedly the freest country in the word.”