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Marriott's "Blame the Rape Victim" Strategy Backfires

After saying in court that a Connecticut woman raped at gunpoint, in the Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa parking garage, in front of her two young children, "failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities," the hotel chain is dropping its defense because of a public relations nightmare.

The woman, who is suing the hotel for not using adequate security, training employees or monitoring the parking lot. Previous sexual assaults occurred in the hotel parking garage prior to the victim's 2006 rape. Her attacker, Gary Fricker, 56, pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, risk of injury to a minor and robbery. He is now serving a 20-year prison sentence.

The strategy against the 40-year-old woman was made public more than a week ago, and on Aug. 14 tried to soften the blow with expressions of sympathy. The expressions of sympathy did little to silence the outrage.

The Stamford Marriott is a franchise hotel, which is independently owned and operated.

By Tuesday, as the legal strategy hit the blogosphere, Marriott's corporate officials reported they were asking the franchise's lawyers not to pursue the blame-the-victim defense, saying it was "a mistake to suggest that the victim of this tragic incident was responsible for the vicious crime against her. . . . This incident is not reflective of our corporate culture or ethical standards, and we apologize to all of our guests and customers who were so deeply offended by the words used in the legal pleading."

In fact, the franchisee went so far as to say hotel officials disavowed the whole strategy from the beginning, but the mother of one of its lawyers died in July -- and so the associate hadn't had time to withdraw. (Oh, come on!) But it was pressure from Marriott that ended the defense completely this week.

Of course, this also came after several bloggers made hay:

If you want to live dangerously, why not try an unrelaxing visit to the Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa? It features a game room, a BBQ/picnic area, $10 a day Internet access, and the occasional mentally unhealthy transient wandering for days around the parking garage waiting to attack you.
People noticed. And Marriott realized the strategy of one of its franchises was hurting the entire brand publicly. As Jim Nugent, chairman of litigation for the Connecticut Bar Association, said their defense was an odd one, especially given a horrific rape witnessed by the victim's children.
"It's just not going to sit well with a jury," Nugent told the Associated Press. "How in the world could this poor woman contribute to that?"
So, apparently from the beginning their defense was dumb and it was a public relations fiasco. Sometimes it's just time to do the right thing: to realize that part of a hotel's business is to make its property safe for its guests and to invest in equipment and training to do so. Otherwise it will cost hotels much more -- in both cash and public opinion.

Photo courtesy of the Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa