Airbnb Reportedly Paid a Rape Victim $7 Million for Silence on Settlement

After the alleged assault, Airbnb got the woman a hotel, flew her home, and offered to cover health care and counseling.
June 16, 2021, 4:52pm
A woman with tape on her mouth
(Photo by Getty)

Airbnb paid a woman $7 million after she was allegedly raped while she stayed at a New York property rented out through the massive platform in 2016, Bloomberg reported Tuesday. 

In exchange for the payout, the woman agreed to not discuss the settlement “or imply responsibility or liability” on the part of Airbnb or the host of the property where she stayed, according to Bloomberg.

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“In sexual assault cases, in the settlements we’ve reached, survivors can speak freely about their experiences,” Ben Breit, a spokesperson for Airbnb, told VICE News in an email. “Our safety team worked hard to support the survivor following the horrific attack. We proactively reached out to NYPD 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.”

The man who allegedly raped the Airbnb guest in 2016, Junior Lee, has been charged with predatory sexual assault. When the guest returned from going out, Lee was waiting in the bathroom of the Airbnb property, Bloomberg reported. He allegedly held her at knifepoint.

Police later found keys to the Airbnb in Lee’s possession, Bloomberg reported. The woman and her friends had not needed to show identification to pick up their own keys to the Airbnb, as is common on the platform.

After the alleged assault, Airbnb got the woman a hotel, flew her mother in from Australia, flew both of them home, and offered to cover health care and counseling. The settlement was reached two years later.

Lee has pleaded not guilty and deemed mentally unfit; he’s now in custody. His lawyer declined to comment on the case to Bloomberg.

News of the eye-popping settlement emerged as part of a Bloomberg investigation into Airbnb’s efforts to keep guests and hosts safe, which found that Airbnb spends an average of $50 million per year in payouts to hosts and guests. (Airbnb told the outlet that many of its payouts deal with property damage.) The company also employs a roughly 100-strong “safety team” of workers who handle safety-related complaints. This team has carte blanche to spend whatever they need to help victims, allowing the company to shoot “the money cannon” at problems, as one former employee told Bloomberg. (Airbnb declined to discuss the team’s budget with Bloomberg.)

In any case, working on the safety team sounds like a dismal job: They’ve had to hire cleaners to get blood out of carpets, deal with hosts who find dismembered bodies, and help assault victims as they hide or run, Bloomberg reported. Until 2017, the year that the #MeToo movement began, payout agreements included clauses that “barred the recipient from talking about what had happened, making further requests for money, or suing the company,” according to Bloomberg, which cited inside sources. Now, that clause only “says recipients can’t discuss the terms of their settlement or imply that it’s an admission of wrongdoing.”

“We go the extra mile to ensure anyone impacted on our platform is taken care of,” Tara Bunch, Airbnb’s head of global operations, told Bloomberg. “We don’t really worry about the brand and image component. That stuff will take care of itself as long as you do the right thing.”