I wish I could say I was surprised. In 2013 I wrote a piece on what I believe are the inherent dangers associated with the “couch surfing” phenomenon, and sadly why I do not believe that the organization (Couchsurfing is described as a Certified B Corporation) has sufficient procedures or even warnings in place to prevent the kind of abuse that can occur under its rubric.
Next month, an Italian policeman, Dino Maglio, will go on trial for the rape of an Australian woman 16 years-old at the time of the crime when she was staying at his home on a visit to Italy. Her outcry and the resulting case has led other victims of the same man to come forward as well. It seems apparent that Maglio had an effective cover within the couch surfing world as a policeman, among other things.
Unfortunately, he also had an effective platform in Couchsurfing itself, and in its (in my estimation) “kind of feel your way” approach to judging the safety of a situation from afar, and then in the moment.
I’m still confident that couch surfing is a harmless and indeed quite positive experience for the great majority of those who utilize it. Regardless, one life-changing crime is too many, and it appears that Couchsurfing is still far too vulnerable to infiltration by offenders who probably find it remarkably convenient and victim-rich.
In my view, Couchsurfing enthusiasts and the leaders of the organization need to take a hard look at how the safety of a particular situation can be and/or is evaluated by typical users, and how users can better ensure against inevitable abuse.
I don’t claim to have many answers, but I’ll offer this hint: Communication, no matter how robust, with the host, and even face-to-face conversation before unrolling a sleeping bag, will not be enough.