Airbnb paid an Australian tourist $US7 million ($9 million) after she was allegedly raped in an apartment she was renting in New York City, according to an explosive new report.
The incident was uncovered by an extensive Bloomberg Businessweek investigation into Airbnb’s internal “safety team”, which is responsible for responding to crises.
The 29-year-old Australian woman, who did not want to be named, was staying with friends in a first-floor apartment on West 37th St, just south of Times Square.
The alleged rape occurred on in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2016. The victim, who’d attended a New Year’s Eve party, returned to the apartment alone.
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The Airbnb logo appears on a billboard in Times Square, a few blocks north of the apartment where the alleged rape occurred. Picture: Kena Betancur/AFPSource:AFP
“Soon after ringing in the new year, the woman left her friends at the bar where they’d been celebrating and returned to the apartment on her own. She didn’t notice anything amiss or see the man standing in the shadows as she walked into the bathroom,” Bloomberg reports.
“By the time she realised she wasn’t alone, the blade of a kitchen knife was pointing down at her. The stranger grabbed her, shoved her onto a bed, and raped her. Drunken revellers were wandering the streets outside, but she was too scared to scream.
“The attacker fled with her phone, but she managed to reach her friends with an iPad, and they ran into the street to find a police officer. The cops were already in the apartment an hour or so later when the man returned and peered into the doorway.
“They caught him and emptied his backpack, pulling out three incriminating items: a knife, one of the woman’s earrings, and a set of keys to the apartment.”
The suspect has since been charged with predatory sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty.
Airbnb’s safety team acted swiftly, relocating the woman to a hotel and paying for her mother to fly to New York from Australia.
It subsequently flew them both home and offered to cover any health or counselling costs the victim incurred.
The company also launched an investigation into how the man had obtained duplicate keys for the apartment.
Airbnb does not dictate how property owners give keys to their guests. The group of friends in this case had obtained their keys from the counter of a nearby corner store.
The alleged rapist was found with keys to the apartment. Picture: Lionel Bonaventure/AFPSource:AFP
Two years after the incident, Airbnb wrote the woman a cheque for $US7 million. Bloomberg reports she signed an agreement, committing not to talk about the settlement she’d received or “imply responsibility or liability” on the part of Airbnb, or the host.
The company disputes this, saying its priority was to “support” the woman.
“In sexual assault cases, in the settlements we’ve reached, survivors can speak freely about their experiences. This includes the New York City case,” an Airbnb spokesperson told The New York Post.
“Our safety team worked hard to support the survivor following the horrific attack. We proactively reached out to the New York Police Department after the attack to offer our assistance for their investigation, and we helped get her into a hotel.
“The priority for our company and our executives was supporting the survivor and doing right by someone who had endured trauma.”
Bloomberg’s account of the case comes from an examination of police and court records, confidential documents, and interviews with people familiar with what happened.
Its broader investigation of Airbnb’s safety team found the company spends an average of about $US50 million on payouts to hosts and guests each year. Airbnb said most of these payouts are related to property damage.
Former safety agents told Bloomberg the hardest part of their job was “making peace with their role in keeping cases quiet and ensuring that victims and their families didn’t blame the company”.
They described a number of unsettling incidents, including needing to clean blood off carpets, cover bullet holes in walls, and dealing with hosts who had discovered dismembered human remains in their properties.
One host found a guest naked in bed with his seven-year-old daughter.
The agents said they had a dual role: to protect both the victim of these incidents, and “Airbnb’s public image”.
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