Last year, I took a solo writing trip, and I got my own hotel room.
I love hotels. I grew up staying in them, I spent my early 20s working in one. They make me feel equal parts inspired and empowered — like I’m part of something just by getting to stay there. So, when I booked the writing trip, I started looking forward to my oasis room. I wondered what kind of fancy soap they’d have and imagined how quiet it’d be, save for the click-clacking of my fingers on the keyboard of my computer.
Then I read this article.
It’s about Cheri Marchionda, a seasoned traveler who was staying in a hotel room solo for work. A man she’d turned down repeatedly broke into her room and raped her.
According to reports, he did this by doing two things: first, he got a key to her room by saying he was staying there. The hotel did not ask for ID. Second, he got a maintenance worker to help him get in the room when he couldn’t get in with the key because Marchionda had put the safety latch over the door before going to sleep. (Marchionda sued the hotel, which settled the case before her testimony).
This article described Marchionda as having “done everything right” to keep herself safe, phrasing that is irksome. In a perfect world, women shouldn’t have to take measures to protect themselves because we shouldn’t be victim to aggressors. But whether we frame what Marchionda did as “doing everything right” or not, she took the steps that were designed to keep her safe in a situation, and she was still attacked and raped.
Though it feels unbelievable, I believe it all. I’ve been given plenty of replacement hotel room keys without anyone asking for ID. And once, my husband and I were running late for a wedding when I realized I’d left my bag inside our hotel room. He ran up to get it and, somehow, the safety latch on the door had been closed, and he couldn’t get into the room. He found a maintenance worker who, without asking any questions, helped him get into the room anyway. This all happened in a matter of minutes. He was alone. No IDs were checked.
While I prepared for my trip, Marchionda’s story began to weigh on my mind. So, I came up with a plan. I’d build traps.
The room had a long hallway from the door into the main room, where I’d be sleeping.
Along the entire hallway, I built loud traps. I took the room’s metal ice bucket and looped metal ice tongs through the handle so that they’d hit into each other and make a noise if they were kicked over. I put the luggage rack in front of the hotel door so it’d fall over if the door was opened, knocking into the ice bucket. I put my suitcase at the end of the hallway so it could be tripped over. I was careful not to make obstacles for myself that would create trouble should there be a fire. It was more about laying down things that would make noise and either scare someone away, wake me up, or both.
A couple of months later, I took a trip with a girlfriend who scoffed when I, without thinking much of it, went into the hallway of our shared hotel room to build some traps before going to sleep that night. “Who would come in here,” she asked.
I told her about Marchionda and when she still seemed unconvinced, I kept at my work. In a short period of time, this practice had become one of the checkmarks I’d added to my list of things I needed to do to ensure I’d “done everything right.”
Lauren Harkawik is a writer of essays and fiction and is a local reporter in rural Vermont.