Airbnb reportedly paid tourist $ 7 million after rape at Midtown rental

Airbnb paid a tourist $ 7 million after she was allegedly raped at a Manhattan rental – a massive payment that is part of the company’s widespread campaign to hide such shocking incidents, according to a new report.

The mind-boggling sum distributed for the previously unreported alleged crime is only part of the estimated $ 50 million annually the vacation company pays out to pay guests under legal settlements and to cover damage to homes of people. hosts, according to Bloomberg.

The alleged rape in Manhattan occurred at the start of New Year’s Day in 2016 after the anonymous 29-year-old Australian victim and several of her friends rented a first-floor apartment on West 37th Street a few blocks away south of Times Square, according to the report released Tuesday.

The guests reportedly collected their keys from a nearby bodega earlier that night without showing any ID, and then went to a New Years party.

When the victim returned from a bar without his friends shortly after midnight, the suspect, Junior Lee, 24, was hiding in the bathroom, Bloomberg reported. He is accused of pointing a kitchen knife at her and raping her, according to the media.

When police captured Lee later that night, they reportedly found a set of apartment keys in her bag, next to a knife and one of the woman’s earrings.

He has been charged with predatory sexual assault and could face life in prison, the report said. Lee has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody.

Chris Lehane, head of global policy and communications at Airbnb, was apparently worried about Airbnb’s reputation and that the victim would take legal action.
Andrew Burton / For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Legal Aid Society, which Bloomberg says represents Lee, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hours after the alleged assault, Airbnb “security guards” intervened, lodging the woman in a hotel, bringing her mother over from Australia and offering to pay all health or counseling costs, according to Bloomberg.

Chris Lehane, a former political consultant who now works as Airbnb’s head of global policy and communications, is said to have feared the incident could be used to help kick Airbnb out of New York City during the company’s bitter battle for vacations with regulators.

It is not known how Lee would have obtained a key to the apartment.

Brian Chesky is the CEO and co-founder of Airbnb.
Brian Chesky is the CEO and co-founder of Airbnb.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The woman’s lawyer, Jim Kirk of the Kirk firm, negotiated a $ 7 million settlement two years after the alleged assault that prevents him from blaming or suing Airbnb or the apartment host, according to Bloomberg .

“In cases of sexual assault, in the settlements we have reached, survivors can speak freely about their experiences. This includes the New York case, ”Airbnb spokesman Ben Breit insisted in an email to The Post.

“Our security team worked hard to support the survivor after the horrific attack,” said the representative.

“We proactively contacted the NYPD after the attack to offer our assistance in their investigation, and we helped them get her into a hotel. The priority for our company and our leaders was to support the survivor and do good to someone who had suffered a trauma, ”he added.

Airbnb, Lehane and Kirk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The alleged Manhattan crime came to light as part of a larger Bloomberg investigation into Airbnb’s “internal security team”, which is tasked with cleaning up the company’s worst crises.

Former Airbnb security guards have described numerous shocking incidents at the point of sale, including involving hosts who discovered dismembered human remains in their properties or bloodstains.

Some officers said they also had to console guests who had to flee isolated cabins and hide in wardrobes after being assaulted by hosts, according to the report.

In an alleged incident, a host found an Airbnb guest naked in bed with his 7-year-old daughter.

Until 2017, anyone who signed an agreement with Airbnb regarding incidents like these would have been required to sign a nondisclosure agreement, meaning that many more poignant stories may have gone unreported. .

After the #MeToo movement exposed how such agreements can be used to protect abusive businesses, Airbnb replaced the nondisclosure agreement with a clause saying “recipients cannot discuss terms of their settlement or leave to hear that it is an admission of wrongdoing “. Bloomberg said.

Airbnb has also employed senior political agents to help negotiate the potential advertising nightmare of such incidents.

Airbnb reportedly hired Nick Shapiro to help them negotiate potential advertising nightmares.
Airbnb reportedly hired Nick Shapiro to help them negotiate potential advertising nightmares.
AP / Charles Dharapak

In addition to hiring Lehane, who worked as the Clinton White House spokesperson, the company brought in Nick Shapiro, former adviser to President Obama’s National Security Council and former deputy chief of staff at the Central Intelligence Agency. .

“It brought me back to the feeling of being faced with some really horrible issues in Langley and in the White House situation room,” Shapiro, who helped manage the Midtown rape case, told Bloomberg. .

In May 2020, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky reportedly cried during a video call as he announced he was laying off 25% of the company’s employees, including 25 of the most senior security guards in the world. ‘business.

He later partially reversed the decision and temporarily rehired 15 of the workers with half-time wages, according to Bloomberg.

Airbnb, which went public in December as part of a successful IPO valuing the company at more than $ 109 billion, recently announced in detail that it was working with rental company Vrbo to crack down on ” party houses ”.

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