TripAdvisor Deleted Warnings About Rape & Sexual Assault From Reviewers, But Claims It's Changed That Policy

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Many people turn to travel websites for information about safety and security before taking trips to unfamiliar places. But according to a recent investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one popular travel forum reportedly censored user comments that could have potentially be life-saving. The Sentinel reported this week that TripAdvisor deleted comments about sexual assault and rape from some of its users, claiming that the comments were “determined to be inappropriate by the TripAdvisor community."

TripAdvisor tells Bustle that although warnings from rape survivors were removed from its website in 2010, the company's policies have since evolved. "The policies were changed so that we could include language that mentions rape or sexual assault," Brian Hoyt, TripAdvisor's Senior Director of Corporate Communications, says. "Currently on the site, there are literally thousands of reviews where things like theft, robbery, sexual assault, and death are mentioned because that’s exactly the type of information we want to make sure is available to consumers."

The Sentinel was investigating the death of a Wisconsin college student in Mexico when it noticed the alarming trend on the online forum. In one instance, a thread in which a woman asked about the safety of a popular Mexican resort spot had 27 out of 55 user responses deleted by the website.

Reporters contacted some of the users who had their comments removed, and found that many of them were rape survivors who felt that the website was actively silencing their accounts of violent assault. "I felt I was completely out of options, and my next greatest weapon was TripAdvisor," Kristie Love, an American woman who was allegedly raped by a security guard while on vacation at an all-inclusive resort on the Mexican Riviera, told CBS News.

Love said that after officials and police at the scene failed to respond to the incident, she wanted to warn other travelers about her experience. Her post was deleted for violating TripAdvisor's "family-friendly" policies. According to the Sentinel, at least two other women were sexually assaulted at the same resort after Love's post was deleted.

TripAdvisor has since publicly apologized to Love, re-published her original post, and vowed that the company is committed to presenting accurate information about safe travel to consumers — including information that warns of potential dangers.

However, according to the Sentinel, one user had his post about a first-hand account of sexual assault at a Mexican spa removed from the website for "hearsay" as recently as Oct. 17.

More than 400 million people turn to TripAdvisor each month for consumer reviews and insights before booking hotels and accommodations. However, some worry that, given the recent reports, these reviews may not always be as accurate as they could be, particularly because of potential conflicts of interest.

For example, while the company primarily has control over what is posted on the site, there are also a number of "trusted community members" who have the ability to remove forum posts, through the company has not disclosed who these community members are, how they were selected, or whether their roles pose a conflict of interest.

Additionally, the company has contracts with select hotels and travel agencies that earn TripAdvisor a 12 to 15 percent commission when customers book or complete their stays.

Still, TripAdvisor maintains that negative reviews, specifically those that allege rape or assault, are removed only when they involve hearsay. "I’m glad that we’ve made changes to our processes and policies since [2010] and that the company does look for ways to get this important information to consumers," Hoyt says. "To say that it’s info that we don’t want out there is simply untrue."