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Hotels in Chicago have a sexual harassment problem. A button could be the solution.


Hotels in Chicago have a sexual harassment problem. A button could be the solution.

WATCH | Almost 50 percent of housekeeping staff at hotels in Chicago have reported having a guest expose themselves. A proposed "panic button" could fix that.

If you think getting on your knees and cleaning the toilet is the worst part of a hotel worker's job, you're wrong.

A 2016 survey by Unite Here Local 1, the largest union of hospitality employees in Chicago, found that sexual harassment may be the worst part.

Of the almost 500 female housekeepers surveyed, 49 percent said that they've had guests expose themselves. And on more than one occasion.

"It happened just last week," Cecilia Leiva said.

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Cecilia Leiva has worked at various downtown hotels, and she says a lot of women are afraid to file complaints regarding guests.

I saw a man masturbating. And he acted like it was nothing.
Cecilia Leiva, hotel employee

Leiva, a mother of two, who's worked in hotels for 28 years says she's had guests invite her into the room while they're naked or masturbating.

"I just turn around and walk away," Leiva said.

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This problem isn't endemic to Chicago. Seattle did a similar study with 99 employees and found similar results.

But what do others like her do?

"Some of them cry," Leiva told Circa. "Some of them get frustrated. They're afraid they will lose their jobs."

But if a civil ordinance making its rounds through the city council right now passes, all hotel employees could be required to carry panic buttons with them at all times. If they felt threatened, employees would press the button and security would be sent their way.

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The purpose of the panic button is to make all employees who work alone in rooms feel secure, according to the union representing employees like Leiva.

"We think it's very important to protect our workers," said Sarah Lyons of Unite Here Local 1. "Particularly our women, who are often isolated."

The ordinance is being ushered in by Alderman Michelle Harris, but it's unclear when the city will vote on it. A similar ordinance is already law in New York City. 

There are not many studies on sexual harassment in the hospitality industry, but a survey in Seattle found that more than half of employees had experienced sexual harassment by hotel guests.

"[This is] fabulous," Leiva said about the proposed ordinance. "If I work, it's because of my kids. This is something that benefits us, our kids and those coming after us."

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