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Victorian Airbnb super-host jailed for raping tourist employee



An Airbnb superhost who raped a young Japanese woman he had hired to clean his rural property has been jailed for six-and-a-half years.

James Lithgow twice raped and sexually assaulted the 19-year-old, who spoke little English, in a caravan next to his home in Halls Gap in 2018.

County Court Judge Fran Dalziel said the now 46-year-old should have been aware a young woman being agreeable and friendly did not amount to an invitation to sexual activity.

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Lithgow was convicted by a jury of two charges each of rape and sexual assault, but acquitted of other charges including false imprisonment and attempted rape.

He had claimed that he believed the woman was consenting, telling police "I'm not silly, I can tell when there's a good feeling going on".

Lithgow also described his kissing and touching of the young woman as normal drunken behaviour, prompting the judge's disagreement in a pre-sentence hearing.

"Just no. It's not normal behaviour to start kissing and having sex with someone just because you're drunk," she said.

"If it is normal, it shouldn't be."

She noted Lithgow had only stopped his sexual advances on the woman after she told him she had a boyfriend.

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Judge Dalziel questioned why he had only stopped then.

"Does a boyfriend somehow make you less available to have sex?" she asked, adding that a woman is entitled to say no for any reason, including that she just doesn't want to.

Lithgow had met the woman responding to an ad she posted looking for work.

She and her boyfriend arrived in Australia in early September 2018 on a working holiday, and Lithgow offered her $25 an hour plus food and accommodation to clean his 11-person Airbnb property.

She caught a train from Melbourne to Ararat and he picked her up for the 30-40 minute drive to his property, stopping at a supermarket to buy wine and dinner.

At the property they drank the wine and the young woman reported feeling drunk.

Lithgow pushed her into a chair outside the caravan and began groping and kissing her, before taking her into the caravan where he twice raped her.

He then fell asleep.

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After dozing for a few hours the woman text her boyfriend, who made his way to the property to meet her the following morning.

He took her to a neighbouring caravan park and police were called.

In sentencing Lithgow, Judge Dalziel noted his business had suffered as a result of his actions, and the subsequent reporting on his trial.

She said it wasn't suggested he had intentionally set out to assault her, but he had showed a lack of understanding of the stark power differential between them.

"No doubt she was friendly and agreeable, but that is not an indication she was willing to engage in sexual activity with you," she said.

Lithgow must serve at least four years before he is eligible for parole.

Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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