Used with permission
By Michael Hobbes . . . The hotel industry has never liked Airbnb. Since the launch of the short-term rental company in 2008, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the sector’s trade group and lobbying arm, has urged cities to tax, restrict and prohibit Airbnb’s activities.
But now the industry may be encouraging a new tactic: inciting fear of child predators.
“With a revolving door of strangers coming and going from short-term rental properties, tools like sex offender lists are becoming obsolete,” wrote Stacie Rumenap, president of the nonprofit Stop Child Predators, in a guest column last March in the Knox News in Knoxville, Tennessee. “There is no safeguard in place to stop a child predator from renting an Airbnb property next door.”
At the time, Tennessee lawmakers were considering whether to forbid cities across the state from regulating short-term rentals. Rumenap wrote that if the legislation passed, “the term ‘Stranger Danger’ will take on a whole new meaning for parents in Tennessee as the community fabric of neighborhoods across the state will be fractured and local schools, parents and children will have to contend with more complete strangers in their neighborhoods.” . . .
Many of the advertisements and other written materials produced by Stop Child Predators have a striking resemblance to the messaging that the hotel industry uses in its own efforts to restrict the operations of Airbnb.
“Commercial landlords are using Airbnb to rent out multiple residential properties year-round, just like a hotel, while avoiding regulation and taxes,” writes the AHLA on the “Illegal Hotels” page of its website. . . .
Regardless of Stop Child Predators’ links to the AHLA, it’s worth considering the group’s argument on the merits: Would restricting Airbnb really make children safer?
Even a cursory look at the evidence indicates that it would not.
While child sexual abuse remains alarmingly common — up to 5% of boys and 12% of girls experience abuse before turning 18 — only 7% is committed by strangers or acquaintances. The vast majority is perpetrated by friends (often minors themselves), family members or authority figures such as teachers or coaches.
And when it comes to kidnappings, “stranger danger” is even rarer: In 2011, just 105 children were abducted by adults they didn’t know in the entire United States. Considering that more than 200,000 children are reported missing each year, strangers represent a tiny portion of the danger posed to children in the United States.
“Research on child sexual abuse does not support these concerns,” said Sandy Rozek, the communications director for the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws. “Extensive research has documented that child sexual abuse risk overwhelmingly comes from individuals that children know, not strangers.”