It’s every traveler’s nightmare: You show up late in the evening in a strange new city and, when you knock on the door of the place you arranged to stay, the building is vacant with no signs of life.
But being shut out of the room she rented in Spain was just the beginning of the ordeal for Victoria Yordanova, then a 21-year-old college student from Wellesley. Her Airbnb host eventually sent her to a second building, where she said three men tried to abduct her and, in the process, dropped her down a flight of stairs, breaking her neck and arm.
Yordanova spent 11 days in the hospital and never made it back to her junior year abroad program in Ireland.
“It was supposed to be the best semester of my life,” said Yordanova, who had to wear a steel device drilled into her skull for two months and still has a titanium rod in her right arm from the 2018 incident. ‘It turned out to be the worst.”
Now, Yordanova is suing the multibillion-dollar online vacation rental company, arguing Airbnb failed to provide a safe place for her to stay when she arrived in Barcelona.
A spokesman for Airbnb did not comment on Yordanova’s suit, but confirmed her host was “removed from Airbnb” after the incident. He also sent a link to a list of safety measures the company has taken to keep guests safe, including “curtailing disruptive gatherings” and offering tools to protect women traveling alone.
“And we believe our efforts are working. Between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, only .086 percent of trips included a safety issue reported by a host or guest,” said the company in a news release that was sent to the Globe in response to questions about the incident.
But, for a company as big as Airbnb, even a small percentage of trips adds up to big numbers. Bloomberg reported last month that Airbnb receives 200,000 safety complaints a year. In October 2018, the Globe described the ordeal of two Boston medical residents who were awakened in the middle of the night by their Airbnb host, who came crashing through a window of the guesthouse they were renting. He had been ranked a “superhost,” and had excellent reviews.
Bloomberg reported that Airbnb has spent millions of dollars to keep customers’ complaints out of the public eye, including paying $7 million to a tourist who said she was raped in a Manhattan Airbnb rental. Bloomberg reported that a secretive safety team is authorized to spend any amount to handle crises at their rentals.
One of these incidents took place in Barcelona, where a host lured two American women to his home and raped them, the story said.
“I want people to know this can happen. You can get an Airbnb and you can end up at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Yordanova in an interview. “I want to have some sort of closure. I know I’m never going to get it with the people who hurt me physically. But I can get closure from the people who put me in the position in the first place -- that’s Airbnb.”
Yordanova was a Simmons University junior in the fall of 2018, enrolled in a program in Dublin when a bunch of friends decided to take a side trip to Spain. She went a day early. She wasn’t looking for any place fancy, just somewhere she could spend the night.
When she arrived at the apartment building at around 9:30 p.m. and her host, a Russian woman named Tamara, wasn’t there to let her in, she panicked. She had no cellphone service, so she asked some tourists to help her. After a series of frantic calls to Airbnb, she was put in touch with Tamara, who told her she was too late to enter the original apartment. Tamara then directed her to another apartment where she said she could have a room for the night for an additional fee. She rushed over, grateful to have someplace to go.
There, Yordanova said, Tamara led her to a bedroom that -- in violation of Airbnb policy -- had no lock. Three young men were in another room in the the same apartment.
After getting something to eat, Yordanova said, she went straight to bed.
In the middle of the night, she woke to find the three men carrying her from her bed, according to a lawsuit she filed late last month in Norfolk Superior Court against Airbnb. The men allegedly dragged her down a stucco staircase, but she screamed so loud they dropped her on the steps. Yordanova, the lawsuit said, “fell and rolled down the full staircase, suffering severe injuries and extreme pain and suffering.”
Neighbors heard her scream and called the police, who found her in an alley outside the building.
Yordanova, who still suffers from the physical and psychological affects of the attack, finds it too painful to describe the actual assault, her lawyer, George A. McLaughlin, said. She was not sexually assaulted, he said, but believes she was the victim of an attempted abduction.
“They may have thought this would be a quick grab and throw her in a van,” said McLaughlin, who filed the suit with attorney Joel E. Faller on June 30. “The only problem is she fought and was screaming and they dropped her. Lights were going on in the neighborhood.”
Yordanova was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries — her neck was fractured in two places and she had a broken arm, the suit says. She spent four days in intensive care and another week after that in the hospital.
A titanium rod was placed inside her arm and will likely stay there, the lawsuit says. She has large visible scars.
But the neck injuries were worse. Because surgery was believed to be too risky, doctors instead screwed a device called a halo into her head to hold her upper body steady, essentially immobilizing her for two months.
“The hospital was right on the boardwalk with the ocean outside,” she said. “It was so beautiful, but I was at a place of such distress. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to put my feet in the sand.”
Police interviewed Yordanova in the hospital, and showed her photos of men who matched the description that she had given them. But she didn’t recognize any of the men in the photos.
The report said “it has not been possible to identify” the alleged assailants. “However, if in the future other incriminating evidence is obtained,” the case would continue.
Tamara, whose last name is unknown, told a friend of Yordanova’s, who stopped by the apartment to collect her belongings, that she thinks Yordanova jumped out of a window, according to McLaughlin.
For its part, Airbnb stopped posting rental listings for Tamara and offered Yordanova a token settlement but she declined the offer, McLaughlin said. He said she was offered $50,000. The Airbnb spokesman said he had no information on any settlement offer.
“I was shocked at how cavalier they were about it,” said McLaughlin. “They pooh-poohed it. ‘We have no records. It didn’t happen,’ ” he said.
Yordanova, who was taking pre-med courses in the hope of becoming a doctor, was eventually able to return to school and complete her bachelor’s degree, taking extra classes so she could graduate with her class in 2020. She now works as a technician at a Boston hospital.
But the experience has shaken her so much she still has trouble functioning. She panics when there’s an emergency at the hospital and starts to tremble and sweat when she’s in crowds.
“If they had just found me a place that was registered and made sure the place was safe, none of this would have happened. I was not safe. I was never safe,” she said.
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.