On New Year's Eve 2015, a young woman stayed at an Airbnb in New York, unaware that she would be the victim of a crime and that the company would try to keep it a secret.
Much of Airbnb's success is based on the trust that its users have when renting accommodation. However, the platform is far from foolproof in terms of security . It was recently revealed that the company tried to hide a crime that occurred in one of the properties they offer, which cost it $ 7 million .
The events occurred on New Year's Eve 2015 in an apartment located on the first floor of West 37th Street, in New York . A 29-year-old Australian girl arrived with a group of friends to enjoy the iconic Manhattan-style festivities. As indicated by the landlord, they collected the keys at the counter of a nearby warehouse and settled down.
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After ringing in the new year, the young woman left her friends at the bar and returned to the apartment alone, without imagining that someone was waiting inside. The stranger stepped out of the shadows, threatened her with a kitchen knife, pushed her onto the bed and sexually abused her.
Although the streets were full of people, fear paralyzed the girl and she could not scream. In the end, the attacker fled with her phone, but she managed to contact her friends with an iPad and they went to find a police officer.
An hour later, when the agents were in the apartment, the criminal made the mistake of returning and leaning out the door, which allowed him to be caught. In his backpack they found three incriminating items: a knife, an earring from the woman and a set of keys to the property.
Nothing happened here
That morning, the victim received a call from Nick Shapiro, who had been a crisis manager at Airbnb for two weeks. He notified platform officials, including Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, of the incident.
At the same time, an elite security team from the company relocated the victim to a hotel, took her mother from Australia to New York with everything paid, as well as the expenses back to her hometown, in addition to offering to cover health and counseling costs.
A week later, Airbnb sent a staff member to court to see if the company was mentioned during the legal proceedings, but they did not. Neither did the local media report on the case, which until now has come to light.
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According to information revealed by Bloomberg Businessweek , Airbnb paid the woman $ 7 million as compensation . In return, she signed an agreement agreeing not to talk about the payment "or imply liability" to the company or the host. While the deal doesn't prevent you from cooperating with prosecutors, you can't blame or sue the company either.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, declined to comment, as did her lawyer. What is known about the crime is the product of an investigation based on police and judicial records, confidential documents and interviews with people close to the case.
Security issues on Airbnb
The set of keys that the criminal had in his hands called into question Airbnb's security policies , since at that time and to date they do not have clear rules regarding the delivery of keys for tenants.
In this case, although it is not known with certainty how the attacker obtained the duplicate, it is speculated that it was as simple as ordering them at the nearby winery posing as a guest.
The Bloomberg Businessweek investigation compiles several recorded incidents in Airbnb accommodations, from theft and vandalism, to physical assault and sexual assault, among others. Much of it has been handled internally through confidential agreements and payments to victims.
The company has a crisis control team made up of about 100 agents distributed in different cities around the world. They are allowed to spend whatever is necessary as long as the victim feels supported: payment for flights, accommodation, food, counseling, health costs, and sexually transmitted disease screenings for rape survivors.
A confidential document seen by the outlet shows that in recent years, Airbnb spent an average of $ 50 million annually on payments to hosts and guests, including legal settlements and damage to homes.
They cannot control incidents, but their response as a company can
Airbnb was founded in 2008 by design students Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia , along with engineer Nate Blecharczyk . It currently offers nearly 5.6 million accommodations , more than the total number of rooms in the seven major hotel chains combined. Its market value is $ 90 billion, and its share price has doubled since it went public in December 2020.
Their business model is based on the idea that strangers can trust each other. However, they accept that they are not able to guarantee total security for their tenants and hosts.
"You're dealing with real people in real people's homes," says Tara Bunch, Airbnb's director of global operations. "People are naturally unpredictable and, try as we might, occasionally really bad things happen ."
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The executive adds that "we know that everything cannot be stopped" , but in the end what is important is the company's response to the unexpected.
"We go the extra mile to ensure that anyone affected on our platform is served," says Bunch. "We don't really care about the branding and image component ."
The alleged rapist of the Australian girl, 24-year-old Junior Lee, was charged with predatory sexual assault, the maximum sentence being life imprisonment. With 40 misdemeanor convictions on his record, Lee has pleaded not guilty and bail was set at $ 250,000.