Jun 16, 2021
A sexual assault survivor who was raped inside a New York City Airbnb rental received a $7 million payout, according to a report from Bloomberg News. The report suggests that the attack, which occurred on New Year’s Eve in 2015, occurred after the alleged suspect made a copy of the key to the apartment and accessed the unit where he waited until the victim returned shortly after midnight. The survivor was an Australian traveler who had been out with friends but returned to the Airbnb rental alone where she was attacked by a man hiding in the bathroom.
The suspect, 24-year-old Junior Lee, was charged with predatory sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty but remains in custody.
The BBC reported that after the rape occurred Airbnb’s safety team contacted the NYPD to offer assistance and eventually put the survivor in a hotel room. Airbnb also flew the survivor’s mother to New York from Australia and offered to pay for costs such as psychological counseling.
But the Bloomberg report indicates that the $7 million settlement came with conditions, specifically that the rape survivor could not blame or sue Airbnb (or the apartment where the attack occurred). According to Bloomberg, the $7 million settlement was in exchange for agreeing to not talk about the settlement or “imply responsibility or liability” on the part of Airbnb or the rental’s host. The settlement was reportedly reached two years after the rape occurred.
But the New York Post confirmed a statement from an Airbnb spokesperson, Ben Breit, that contradicted Bloomberg’s version of the $7 million settlement agreement:
“In sexual assault cases, in the settlements we’ve reached, survivors can speak freely about their experiences. This includes the NYC case,” Breit said in an email to the New York Post.
Airbnb claims it conducts “online background checks” on hosts and guests, and that those checks include criminal and public records. But as Bloomberg reports, incidents involving Airbnb guests – particularly sexual assaults – are widespread, and the company has a made a concerted push to conceal such shocking information from the public.
“The way Airbnb has handled crimes such as the New York attack, which occurred during a bitter regulatory fight, shows how critical the safety team has been to the company’s growth. Airbnb’s business model rests on the idea that strangers can trust one another. If that premise is undermined, it can mean fewer users and more lawsuits, not to mention tighter restrictions,” the Bloomberg report read.
In other words, while many sexual assault incidents may occur at Airbnb properties, the company works quickly to keep news of said incidents quiet (and issues multi-million dollar settlements to do so).
According to the Bloomberg report, Airbnb pays an estimated $50 million annually to cover guest legal settlements.
In the New York Airbnb rape case, the survivor returned to the apartment by herself and was attacked at knifepoint when she walked into the bathroom. According to Bloomberg, the attacker grabbed the woman, shoved her on the bed, and raped her while holding a kitchen knife. Despite hearing the pedestrians out and about for New Year’s on the streets, the survivor was too afraid to scream for help.
The attacker reportedly fled the scene with the survivor’s phone, but she was able to reach her friends using an iPad. The police were in the Airbnb rental approximately an hour later and, paradoxically, the attacker returned and was found peering in the doorway, according to Bloomberg. The police apprehended the suspect and emptied his backpack. Three key pieces of evidence were found: a knife, one of the survivor’s earrings, and a set of keys to the apartment.
Following the New York Airbnb sexual assault, the company’s safety team began a full court press to help contain the situation. According to Bloomberg, insiders refer to Airbnb’s safety team as the “black box,” and when incidents such as rape occur, they work to assist the victim while also diligently keeping the story away from the media.
For the New York City rape, Airbnb certainly made efforts to help the survivor by relocating her immediately and offering to cover medical and psychological costs. But Airbnb’s business model being centered around the trust of strangers is part of what makes such odious incidents a clear and present danger for travelers. “You are dealing with real people in real people’s homes,” Airbnb’s head of global operations, Tara Bunch, told Bloomberg.
And these types of incidents were not unforeseen, even in the early days of Airbnb. As Bloomberg reported, after a presentation before potential investors, Chris Sacca, an early backer of companies like Instagram, Twitter, and Uber, warned the Airbnb creators of the potential pitfalls.
“Guys, this is super dangerous. Somebody’s going to get raped or murdered, and the blood is gonna be on your hands,” Sacca said, according to Bloomberg. He never invested in Airbnb.
Airbnb recently called for a nationwide registration system for short-term let operators, which would require obtaining a registration number from the government or a devolved authority in order to list their homes and “remove bad actors.” But as the BBC reported, Airbnb has not made any changes in regard to keys and where hosts may leave them. Airbnb hosts do not have to use keypad locks or change codes for keypads between bookings (nor do they have to tell the company who else has a copy of the property’s key).
Until stricter regulations are imposed, guests are at risk and Airbnb will likely continue paying substantial settlements for preventable incidents, such as rape and other sexual assaults. As former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian, notes, Airbnb should take immediate action to ensure guests are not exposed to dangerous conditions.
“This is a situation where the problem and solution have been clearly identified, but the company is senselessly dragging its feet. I think Airbnb’s inaction is an affront to the sexual assault survivors who have endured lifelong trauma as a result,” Dordulian said.
If you’ve been sexually assaulted at an Airbnb property, Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) team of experienced and dedicated attorneys can help you recover the maximum financial compensation you deserve. DLG’s founder and president, Sam Dordulian, previously worked as a sex crimes prosecutor, accruing over 100 jury trial victories in the role of Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. Today, Dordulian fights on behalf of sexual assault survivors in civil court to ensure they receive justice and due financial compensation.
Dordulian created DLG’s Sex Crimes Division to be a unique and all-encompassing support network that is tailored to the specific needs of sexual assault survivors. DLG’s SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts) is comprised of four tiers of legal expertise and emotional support to help survivors navigate the litigation process. The four tiers of our SAJE Team include:
With DLG, Airbnb sexual assault survivors have 24/7 access to every member of the SAJE Team. When you contact DLG with your Airbnb sexual assault claim, we’ll listen to the facts of your case, launch a thorough investigation led by Detective Castillo, develop a winning legal strategy based on our years of experience and proven results, and file your claim properly to ensure you recover the financial compensation you deserve after such an unfortunate incident.
DLG’s Sex Crimes Division team is the absolute best in California because of the unique type of extensive resources we offer in addition to expert legal representation. At DLG, we help sexual assault survivors from start to finish with unwavering support, personalized attention, and consummate professionalism.
With a 98% success record and history of recovering over $100,000,000 in settlements and verdicts for our clients, DLG is the best choice you can make when searching for an Airbnb sexual assault lawyer. Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 to learn more about how we can help you move forward after experiencing a traumatic Airbnb sexual assault. When you’re ready to tell your story and secure the justice you deserve, we’re here to listen and fight aggressively as your dedicated legal advocate.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.