New Jersey introduces panic buttons for hotel workers to prevent sexual assault

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy signs law that mandates hotels provide panic buttons for housekeepers
New Jersey governor Phil Murphy signs law that mandates hotels provide panic buttons for housekeepers Credit: Edward Lea /The Press of Atlantic City via AP

New Jersey has become the first US state to require hotels to provide their staff with wearable panic buttons in an effort to tackle sexual assault.

Phil Murphy, the state's Democratic governor, signed a bill on Tuesday requiring most hotels to provide their workers with the devices to summon help quickly in an emergency. 

"I am proud to sign panic-button legislation to give hotel workers security and the ability to immediately call for help should they need it," he said during a ceremony, surrounded by housekeepers from Atlantic City casinos.

The law takes effect in January and applies to hotels with 100 or more rooms. New Jersey is the first state to mandate the devices, although similar measures are under consideration in Illinois, Florida and Washington state.

Several major hotel chains, including Marriott and Hilton, have already announced plans to provide the devices to their staff.

It follows an attack in 2018, where a 51-year-old room cleaner was pushed into a room by a man who then sexually assaulted her at Bally's casino in Atlantic City.

"The housekeepers were enraged after that," said Ben Albert, from the local chapter of the Unite-Here union. 

The workers' union has attempted to draw attention to the issue in light of the 'MeToo' movement against sexual harassment, which began in Hollywood after an outpouring of allegations against media mogul Harvey Weinstein, which he denies. 

Bob McDevitt, the union's president, said: "Our country has been preoccupied with millionaire entertainers being sexually harassed by billionaire owners, but what is being lost in all this are the working women who are far more likely to face this kind of behaviour at their jobs".

Housekeepers seem to be broadly supportive of the new measures.

"It's a layer of protection for us," said Daksha Parikh, a housekeeper at the Tropicana casino. "Sometimes they don't have any clothes on when you knock on the door and say, 'Housekeeping,' or they're playing dirty videos on their laptop," she said.

Iris Sanchez, a housekeeper at Caesars, said she is relieved she will be able to summon help at the touch of a button.

"The lawmakers in New Jersey stood up with my co-workers and I to say no more to guests exposing themselves to us, soliciting us for sex, and allowing us to be unsafe as we open the door to a guest room, with no idea what is waiting for us behind it," she said.