Aussie who was allegedly raped with a knife in an Airbnb apartment in New York City received a secret $ 7 million settlement that included restrictions on what she could say about the incident, according to one media investigation into the “guest safety” policies of the holiday ad giant. .
The 29-year-old was attacked at a property near the Tourist Magnet and the Manhattan Central Crossroads in Times Square in early New Year’s Day 2016, Bloomberg Businessweek reported, prompting the rapid intervention of a “Working group” dedicated to Airbnb crisis management.
The team, according to Bloomberg, “only clean up after the disaster” and in this case transferred the woman to a hotel, paid for her mother to fly from Australia, then drove the couple home. with travel, health and counseling costs covered.
The subsequent settlement, the article claims, was one of the largest ever paid by the $ 90 billion company, which it says regularly spends tens of millions of dollars each year to legally resolve with clients of such incidents having potentially negative consequences on public relations. It also addresses issues such as the need to compensate Airbnb property hosts for damage caused by renters.
Under a deal brokered with Airbnb by the woman’s New York attorney and paid for two years after the incident, she was prohibited from discussing it, suing the company, or implying that Airbnb was “Responsible or responsible” for the attack.
In an email to the Guardian, Airbnb denied attempting to muzzle the woman. “In cases of sexual assault, in the settlements we have reached, survivors can speak freely about their experiences,” spokesman Benjamin Brait said.
He did not dispute other details of the Bloomberg report, but added that Airbnb’s “trust and security” team is an integral part of its overall customer support operation.
“The priority for our company and our leaders was to support the survivor and do good to someone who had suffered trauma,” he said.
“Our security team worked hard to support the survivor after the horrific attack. We proactively contacted NYPD [the New York police department] after the attack to offer our assistance for their investigation.
Jim Kirk, the woman’s lawyer, declined to comment, telling The Guardian in an email that “we have nothing to add to the Bloomberg article.” He said his client wished to remain anonymous and refused all media interview requests.
The victim and several friends had rented the apartment, one of four at the 12-apartment property in downtown Manhattan that featured on Airbnb’s website, for the New Year’s celebrations. According to police records seen by Bloomberg, she returned to the property alone and was attacked by a man armed with a knife who was hiding in the bathroom.
The alleged rapist, who is in police custody awaiting trial, was arrested by police an hour later. He reportedly entered the building with a knife, one of the woman’s earrings and a duplicate of the apartment keys.
It is not known how he got the set of keys, according to the report, but the women told police they had recovered their own set, without being asked to provide identification, in a local convenience store, per booking registration instructions. host.
At the time of the incident, Airbnb was involved in a dispute with New York City authorities over the regulation of short-term rentals of private homes. Company officials, Bloomberg said, feared that negative publicity about the alleged rape had the potential to affect the success of its operations.
A document viewed by Bloomberg claims to show that Airbnb pays around $ 50 million a year to hosts and guests, which includes property damage and legal settlements.
The news agency’s investigation focused on a number of incidents, including the murder of a Miami woman in Costa Rica by the security guard of the Airbnb property where she was staying, a case the company settled, without admitting responsibility.
In another incident, reported by the Guardian in 2017, a New Mexico woman claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a “super-host” whose property she had rented.
This woman’s lawyer, Teresa Li, settled the case for an undisclosed amount before trial. She told Bloomberg that such regulations make it difficult for courts to decide to what extent internet SEO companies are responsible for crimes committed on their properties.
“Everything is sent to arbitration so nobody really knows that,” she said. “The only thing that really motivates [Airbnb] is the threat of bad public relations or a nightmare in the press.
Shares of Airbnb, which was launched as a public company on the Nasdaq New York Stock Exchange in December, fell more than 3% on Wednesday after the Bloomberg report was released, before rebounding in the afternoon .
The company, founded in 2008 by entrepreneurs Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, has grown to dominate the internet vacation ad market, but lost nearly 80% of its business in eight weeks last year as the Covid-19 pandemic has wiped out travel to and between many countries, leading to the layoff of a quarter of its workers.
Last August, he announced he was banning house parties and restricting the number of guests at his properties around the world in response to criticism of the rowdy lockdown rallies.