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On the Map: Is CouchSurfing.org Safe for Women?

Perhaps the recent incident where a 29-year-old woman from Hong Kong was repeatedly raped by 34-year-old Abdelali Nachet in his flat in Leeds, UK isn't your typical CouchSurfing experience, but it's exactly the kind of experience I could not shake from my mind as I filled out my profile on the site six months ago. It was this kind of experience that prompted me to fill out the profile with my partner's and my information, instead of just my own. It was this kind of experience that caused me to exclude single men from the list of travelers welcome in my own flat in Kolkata. You see, in a world where the constant threat of rape is a reality for women, I don't f*ck around when it comes to my safety.

CouchSurfing does have some safety measures in place: References from people who have "surfed" with a member; Verification that confirms one's name and geographic location, though this is not required; Friends whose profiles are linked to the member's profile; and Vouching, which is just what it sounds like: members vouch for one another's character. But when it is all said and done, it is left up to the judgment of the "surfer" to decide whether they're willing to take the risk.

CouchSurfing disavows all responsibility for the actions of its members, and while that may be understandable, it is responsible for its own. The debate about CouchSurfing's failure to enact policies and procedures that increase women's safety is a hot and somewhat explosive topic among the site's community on- and offline. Unreported incidents of gender-based misconduct abound; one hears about them through other members in the CS Groups, but not from CS leadership (CS did not announce the Leeds case until after it was all over the media) or through the site's institutionalized safety measures.

It's hard to take these safety measures seriously when some of the men who are accused of attempted or completed sexual assault are actually well-known in CS community and have hundreds of positive references and when they require a woman to go public with information that is humiliating and traumatizing. It gets harder still when the only way CS will take an accusation seriously is if the woman making the accusation produces a police report, which makes many false, Western, ethnocentric assumptions including that the rule of law in every country is applied equally regardless of sex, nationality, sexual orientation, ethnicity, class, etc.; the behavior is classified as a crime in every country and the victim would not be deemed guilty (e.g., homosexual encounters or drug-related incidents); the police are reliable and a written report can be obtained in a timely manner without excessive effort or expense; and one is culturally and linguistically competent and knowledgeable of a country's crime reporting procedures or can easily find out what they are. Obviously CS cares more about protecting the accused than it does about the ones who are victimized.

CouchSurfing happily boasts that "members have reported 3.2 million positive experiences, which is an incredible 99.6 percent of all CS experiences," and for a site that is fully member supported, it needs people to think it is a safe method of connecting travelers to friendly cultural liaisons. If it didn't, they'd lose their funding and be forced to shut down the site. This is an obvious conflict to prioritizing reporting methods that truly keep women fully informed and out of harm's way.

As CouchSurfing grows, so does the potential for incidents like what happened in Leeds. If the site hopes to prevent its site being misused by sexual predators, it must change it's policies and procedures to prioritize safety over monetary gain. It must create a system that requires identity/location verification and a fully filled-out profile for all members, as well as regular and thorough profile and CS Group screening for red flags of misconduct. It should allow for confidential negative public references that give victims the opportunity to speak without fear of retaliation or public disgrace; the identity of the referral writer would be known to CS administrators, but not the referral viewers. CS should require internal notification of and reporting on experiences set up on the site, including an unpublished questionnaire sent to CS administrators with questions about the host's behavior that are analyzed for persistent bad behavior.

Clearly there are steps CS could be taking to ensure women travelers are just as safe on their journeys as men are, and perhaps the media attention it is getting over this unfortunate event will prompt it to take action. Let's hope it does.

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Comments

105 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Well...

I have used CouchSurfing with a partner in the past. It worked out incredibly well for us, but it's not something I would ever use on my own. I consider it much like hitchhiking in that way (and, actually, I would not hitchhike, even with a partner...my mother was sexually assaulted while hitchhiking as a young woman). I would not now even stay in a hostel, given some weird moments I experienced when I was younger.

I am not a CouchSurfing advocate. I don't work for them, nor am I active on the site. But as I say, I have used it.

I take issue with some strong language here, as it only serves to weaken what could be a very strong argument on an important issue:

"Obviously CS cares more about protecting the accused than it does about the ones who are victimized."

Not "obviously," and not necessarily. It is a business, and its "clients" are international people who live in countries with many, many different laws and ways of defining personal harm. Is this variance in definitions good or helpful to women? No. Is their requirement of police-documented evidence purely in service of helping people? No. But they are not themselves an organization that seeks to help people in trouble. They are a business, and they therefore operate with that mindset. It doesn't mean that they care more about protecting the accused--to say that is to assume much, which makes you seem less knowledgeable than I think you actually are. All that those clauses and requirements mean is that CS most likely cares more about protecting themselves than they do about anything else. "Most likely," not obviously. Again, not good, but not what you said, either. Unless you speak to someone who works for CS and they say this, to speculate is to lose ground.

"It must create a system that requires identity/location verification and a fully filled-out profile for all members."

How will this step ensure that women are safer? Rapists can still fill out forms. Known sex offenders can still have people over to sleep on their couch. Do you mean to imply that if I know it's "Joe Smith from Rome" then I can somehow check into his past or accusations? How? And while there are sex offender registries in Canada/US, there are not the same standards worldwide. I'm open to knowing how these steps would help. Can you clarify?

"It should allow for confidential negative public references that give victims the opportunity to speak without fear of retaliation or public disgrace; the identity of the referral writer would be known to CS administrators, but not the referral viewers. CS should require internal notification of and reporting on experiences set up on the site, including an unpublished questionnaire sent to CS administrators with questions about the host's behavior that are analyzed for persistent bad behavior."

These are good ideas. However, what stops someone accused of bad behaviour from starting a new profile, under another name or initial, that gives them a clean slate to start anew and build up a whole other stock of bad behaviour notices? And how does CS police or investigate these? Do they?

My larger point is that the internet is not a simple place to control. This was a terrible tragedy, and YES!! CS should absolutely have handled it better, in terms of damage control and reassurances to female travelers. But it's largely up to us as females to decide if that $50/night for a pensione is worth it in order to get that feeling of personal safety. I think ultimately we have to take responsibility for our own safety as individuals, female or otherwise, and not count on some dude behind a counter at what is essentially a glorified message board to do it for us.

Point taken. And...

I get what you're saying about the use of "obviously". It was a little flamboyant, wasn't it?

CS is not a business, however. It's a non-profit. This may seem trite to point out, but the difference is that, being a non-profit, CS has a very different purpose for existing than simply to generate cash--though yes, it does need cash to stay afloat. It's stated purpose is to be an arbiter of cultural exchange, which its own inadequate policies and procedures are actually hindering in that it is making this goal of "creating inspiring experiences" less possible for women who decide to use the site.

To answer your questions, creating a system that requires identity/location verification would be a disincentive to predators as it would require them to use their actual identities as well as a physical address they have access to. I think a verification code sent via snail mail would be sufficient for location verification, alongside requiring the current optional credit card for identity verification. This would also weed out members who are not truly committed to CS's goals. As it stands, anyone can create a profile with any information that they want and the only thing that is verified is the email address.

A fully filled-out profile for all members would, at the very least, provide travelers with additional information about the potential host in making the decision to stay at their place.

(To be clear, I do not think it's necessary to do all that sex offender registry stuff that you mentioned.)

If these two methods above are employed then your question about what stops someone accused of bad behavior from starting a new profile is solved... assuming they don't go through the trouble of coming up with a new name, new credit card info, new address, etc. Again, it's about creating a disincentive for someone to use the site in a way that is criminal. Most people go the route of Occam's razor, so making it more difficult will only decrease the abuses.

I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean about CS policing, but if my understanding of your question is correct, if someone receives either too many bad behavior reports or a report that is particularly egregious, CS bans them from the site.

I think ultimately we have to take responsibility for our own safety as individuals, female or otherwise, and not count on some dude behind a counter at what is essentially a glorified message board to do it for us.

Love this! And absolutely! It's just unfortunate that something with such potential has such huge limitations.

A few more facts...

Please don't take the addition of a few more facts to be an argument for or against anything written by the author or the commenters so far.

The author, Mandy Van Deven, in her response "Point taken. And..." makes this further suggestion:

To answer your questions, creating a system that requires identity/location verification would be a disincentive to predators as it would require them to use their actual identities as well as a physical address they have access to. I think a verification code sent via snail mail would be sufficient for location verification, alongside requiring the current optional credit card for identity verification. This would also weed out members who are not truly committed to CS's goals. As it stands, anyone can create a profile with any information that they want and the only thing that is verified is the email address.

Just a few facts. The current Couch Surfing verification already entails a verification code sent via snail mail. It is clear on the site whether the individual has given a credit card with an address, and further whether the address was verified through receipt of the code. These are the "verification levels" posted on each member profile.

About 95% of Couch Surf members are not verified at all. We can speculate as to why.

A vocal minority of Couch Surfers are in revolt against the Couch Surfing management team, in great part over the verification fee and the process itself. See sites like www.opencouchsurfing.org where the following blog post appeared a few days ago.

"Alleged rape through CouchSurfing
I just read this article on the British Dailiy (sic) Mail web site.

Terrible, terrible news. I only hope this leads to CouchSurfing improving the trust systems. I hope they don’t use it to promote verification even more, or make verification compulsory."

Another fact. Of course, any traveller considering a prospective host or guest will see whether the profile has been fully filled out. It should be noted that the Couch Surf privacy options allows a prospective host to filter out categorically any couch surfing request from people who have not completed their profile.

I think a discussion like this does benefit from facts, and in that spirit I will ask about some things on which I am still ignorant. Mandy Van Deven wrote:

Unreported incidents of gender-based misconduct abound; one hears about them through other members in the CS Groups, but not from CS leadership (CS did not announce the Leeds case until after it was all over the media) or through the site's institutionalized safety measures.

Does anyone know when the case became know publicly, and when the Couch Surf leadership acknowledged it?

Does anyone know for a fact that Couch Surfing leadership has acknowledged the alleged rape in Leeds at all? Does anyone know how it was acknowledged (press release? court affidavit? turning over system messages exchanged between the guest and the host? a notice by the Member Safety & Dispute Team?)

Does anyone know whether the alleged rapist was verified via credit card and/or snail mail? Since the discussion is about policy prescriptions, this would seem to be an important fact to know.

Last question: Does anyone know whether Couch Surfing leadership, either corporately or individually, would be liable for defamation or libel under British law had they "announced" any details of the incident before an arrest, trial and conviction had been obtained.

I have read about a half dozen of the newspaper reports and have searched the Couch Surf site, but I can't find this information.

To help answer those unanswered questions

To answer Jean-Baptiste's questions:

Does anyone know when the case became know publicly, and when the Couch Surf leadership acknowledged it?
Does anyone know for a fact that Couch Surfing leadership has acknowledged the alleged rape in Leeds at all? Does anyone know how it was acknowledged (press release? court affidavit? turning over system messages exchanged between the guest and the host? a notice by the Member Safety & Dispute Team?)

It became public Monday August 10th when the trial started. The CS leadership acknowledged it Tuesday the 11th once the reports were verified and issued a statement Weds afternoon. The notification to members/press release can be found here:

http://www.couchsurfing.org/news.html?id=269

Does anyone know whether the alleged rapist was verified via credit card and/or snail mail? Since the discussion is about policy prescriptions, this would seem to be an important fact to know.

The alleged rapist's profile has already been deleted, however he was unverified, un-vouched, and friend/referenceless. But even those steps don't mean that something bad might not happen...it just so happens that this guys profile was found to be extremely lacking. One photo...limited personal details....newer member...etc. Not exactly who I would choose to be my host if I was traveling alone....

Last question: Does anyone know whether Couch Surfing leadership, either corporately or individually, would be liable for defamation or libel under British law had they "announced" any details of the incident before an arrest, trial and conviction had been obtained.

Although in this case, CS had no information what-so-ever before this case started, if they had told members that he was a rapist (without a proper conviction) under US law they could have been sued--which being a US company they are held to US laws. They could have however, removed his profile had proper evidence been provided.

thanks for the link

@Anonymous, thanks for the link to the August 11, 2009 announcement still available on the Couch Surf site.

I did not notice it if it appeared on the home page, and the news announcements are not searchable on the site. Do you happen to know how one might navigate to that page today? The reason I ask, is that I am curious to know how prominent or deeply buried the incident has been. Of course, much of the debate here and elsewhere turns on how Couch Surf leadership should manage its public relations in the face of a terrible incident like this.

In your post, you supply some details of what the profile was like before it was deleted. I certainly would be interested to know who you are and how you learned these details. Did you simply read another link on the Couch Surf site? If so, I would appreciate you posting it because I think those details are important to the discussion and I would like to read them first hand.

If you read them in an anonymous post, please tell us. If you are the same "Anonymous" who later turned out to be Crystal Murphy, the media relations person for Couch Surfing, you might tell us that too.

http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/livincrystalism/

I do wonder, however, how much authority lies behind your statement on Couch Surfing's potential legal liability. While I am inclined to guess that there would be liability in citing a named person as a rapist in a press release before there was a conviction in a court of law, I am not convinced you are right that their liability would arise under US law. In this case, the complaining party (and hence the injury) arose in the UK and would affect the person's reputation in the UK. Generally speaking, it is much easier to win damages for defamation or libel under UK law than under US law.

Again, I would be interested to know the basis for your opinion on liability, especially if that opinion is being passed to this blog anonymously from a source within Couch Surfing management. (Yes, yes...I know they have no formal management except in papers filed in New Hampshire, but I mean "management" in common parlance as readers here might understand the word).

Thanks, as before. I just want to learn a few relevant facts, and the provenance of those facts already put forward.

For the record, I am an ordinary Couch Surfing user with no connection to the leadership team. If any of them shook my hand or read my profile they would have no reason to think I was an ally or an opponent. I'm just one of a million profiles in the system, but I would like to learn how the organization works when it comes to a serious topic like this.

blaming the victim

Hello, I just wanted to make the point that comments such as "I would never stay with someone who doesn't have a filled out profile" are a form of victim blaming and I do not think they make any progressive addition to survivor-support. Nobody deserves a sexual assault, and I think when people post comments that discuss how they would never do whatever-risky-activity-that-the-assault-survivor-did is a subtle way of positioning the blame on the survivor. This does nothing to combat sexual violence, and I believe contributes to the pervasive rape culture which does contribute to sexual violence.

RE: compulsory verification

Jean-Baptiste, you're missing my point that if verification was compulsory it would decrease the number of "bad guys" using CS for nefarious purposes. Deterrents are effective.

I think 95% of CS aren't verified b/c to become verified you've got to make a "donation" to the org via credit card. For myself, that feels less like a donation and more like a service charge. I dunno. Maybe it'd be different if they just required a service charge to join the network, which would simultaneously take care of the need for identity verification.

Many of your questions can be answered by reading this newly formed CS group: For safer couchsurfing. It's an ad hoc group of members who formed in response to this incident and they're coming up with a lot of great ideas that CS should really take under consideration.

Really, what concerns me the most is that CS (including this Anon person posting here that I think is a CS employee or something) seems to be focusing its energies on defending itself against critiques instead of reassuring its members and potential members that they are working with the Leeds police and prosecutor to aid the investigation however it may be able to and making a promise to work to solve the problems in its program design, as well as developing a strategy to do so. I've run a non-profit before, and they're doing a terrible job of crisis management, imho.

That's why...

That is exactly why I'm not verified - you have to redo this verification every time you move, and I've moved house four times in the last two and a half years. I am also on a very low income - I simply can't afford to fully re-verify every time I move, because I don't have a permanent place of my own.

As for the CS organisation's behaviour... it's easy for someone to make an accusation of rape, but not so easy for someone to defend against it if it happened not to be true. I can understand why they do things as they do: they have to protect everyone they can.

I'm female, and I am a solo traveller. I've never once stayed with a single man, nor would I, because I actually care about my safety and take steps to ensure it, whether that be staying with a woman or a couple or getting a hostel bed if I can't find a female CSer in the place I'm visiting. I think it's very ill-advised to stay with a single man you don't know if you're a single woman in the first place, so I don't think the CS system can be blamed for this case.

You do not need to donate

You do not need to donate each time you move. You only pay once. When you update your location information they send you a new postcard. You type in the new code when you receive it.

While I am not a member of the Safety Team on CS, I have attended one of their meetings and met some of the team members. They have discussed this at great length many times. Requiring verification by their current method means that anyone who doesn't have a credit card is excluded from the community. While CS wants to make the community safe, protecting people from those of us who have bad credit, don't want to get a credit card or live in a country where credit cards are not common is not their goal.

CS is a part of the world at large, and the world we live in is a dangerous one. The simple fixes people propose are not simple to implement in an international organization with a very small staff.

a terrible job of crisis management

@Mandy Van Deven

I agree that Couch Surfing is doing a terrible job of crisis management.

However, I don't see the basis for your opinion that I missed your point. I read your article, added a few facts, and asked a few questions. As a Couch Surfer, I am too familiar with the tendency of the Couch Surf management team to meet issues anonymously and obliquely for as long as they think possible. With that knowledge, it seemed only sensible to ask a few questions before venturing an opinion.

(Standard disclaimer: Yes, yes...I know that Couch Surfing has a management team only on paper for registration purposes in New Hampshire. I use the term management team in common parlance as readers of this blog might understand it. I'm referring to the people who exercise authority in the organization, whether or not they also accept responsibility.)

Predators on couchsurfing.org

Most predators on couchsurfing are not afraid to have their address verified, that gives them credibility. Most girls who are sexually assaulted or sexually harrassed do not report the perpetrator to couchsurfing or the police. I have a friend that has been attacked twice whilst sleeping and both times managed to escape.

I have been on couchsurfing for a while and I never thought about the fact that some people will do the search for the better looking members (pun intended) and host them. I havbe asked many, many,many people and although most men denied it, the women where more open to say that they had had sex with their host and it was fine and they actually did look for an attractive (to their taste) guy to host them.

In the case of men, 99% are very defensive and they will deny it, although action spoke louder than words (such as chaperoning their femail guests 24/7 until the guest either slept with the subject or she got so fed up that she would leave.

Predatory behaviour is not only helped by the couchsurfing headquarters (especially if the person is an ambassador and has many references), so the words of 1 person against the member with hundreds of references is worth nothing.

Furthermore there is the troll behaviour in the Forums (Beijing group being one of them). Aggressive and violente language are tolerated by the moderators that believe in 'freedom of speech' I would call it freedom of harrassment.

Risky behaviour in the young women I encounter is common, I remember being that age and behave exactly the same. The only thing I was different it was the sexual aspect of it (I tried to be careful, however sometimes it was out of my hands).

Anyway Couchsurfing is a Jungle of horniness, I have met some great people through it and I do not regret joining ( i was never in a group of anykind so it was the first for me). However I will fight for the right not to see violence in it.

Predators watch it.

P

Thanks!

Thank you, Mandy. This became a much bigger discussion, and I for one appreciate the level at which you're engaged in it.

Interested to see what CS does next...

CS is a business now

Couchsurfing was always a business. It had employees, cashflow, expenses etc. At first it was non profit. Now its for profit as of 2012. The hosting/surfing dynamic hasn't changed. Youre confusing a charity with a non profit organization. Whatever the semantics, There is no way an organization can ensure safety. Family members hurt and kill each other all the time. So do friends. You think that strangers will be safer?

How to know if someone creates a new profile

Actually after we were harassed and a member did just that, they were able to confirm it was the same person by the IP address which they blocked.

I think having a more secure system may help but when the CS organization feels that it is in their best interest to try to ignore the complaint under the misguided idea that it tarnishes it's rep, it actually harms that rep even more.

Site upgrade?

I didn't go look this up, but didn't CS used to be a wiki? It seems if someone is going to make a salary from this (a non-profit level one or otherwise), there oughta be more accountability. I'm into this in theory, but I'm admittedly not actually punk enough to enjoy couch-surfing. Most of the all, the risks, real or perceived, keep me away.

yes, but

the economics of the "travel industrial complex" as-we-know-it (as well as the global economy in-general) will be prompting more and more cash-strapped folks desperate for travel of any sort to consider such options. It is vital that anyone victimized in any manner speak loudly and clearly of their experiences.

Lets clear up a few things....

A little sensationalist are we? Although it has been suggested the woman has been raped twice (two times too many), when you say repeatedly you are giving a false impression. And you are correct, this is a rare instance for CouchSurfing and a terrible one, that being said, its good that you can't shake it out of your head--hopefully people won't. Surfers need to really use their common sense when using the site and maybe this incident will help remind them of that.

CouchSurfing, even as a non-profit still is not above the law. Of course they want to protect their members, but without personally being able to go with every surfer to every CouchSurfing related activity, how do you presume that CouchSurfing can ensure everyone's safety? Whenever you are dealing with another human there is always an element of risk.

In regards to CouchSurfing posting about the incident only after the media was all over the story, you should know that CouchSurfing did not know about the case until everyone else did. The initial report CouchSurfing received saying that something *may* have happened did not have any details that proved anything or really even said anything and got no response when asking for clarification. Given that, if we suspended/deleted profiles for every thing along these lines, there may not be any members left. I could easily claim that while I stayed with you that you raped me....and with no evidence BAM your gone. Not exactly a great idea is it?

I don't feel that changing policies will change anything, though educating all members on how to better prevent a situation like this from happening will help. As a matter of a fact, that is exactly what CouchSurfing is doing now--preparing a system to better educate its members on the dangers of CouchSurfing and how to best have a positive experience. The biggest step will be common sense...reading your host/surfers profiles, establishing dialog before staying, meeting in neutral places, having a back up host/money to get a hostel/hotel, etc.

Just my 2 cents....

CS is that you?

The swapping from the personalized "we" to the distanced "CouchSurfing" gives me the impression that this comment is made by a CS employee.

We've heard this line about "education" (whatever that means) being the catch-all solution for all the world's ills, but it's not a lack of education that creates problems like sexual predators. It's a society/world that privileges men's freedom by failing to enact strategies that will dismantle or undermine this privilege.

Reply to comment | Bitch Media

Hey there! I know this is kind of off topic
but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a
captcha plugin for my comment form? I'm using the same blog platform as yours and I'm having problems finding one?
Thanks a lot!

Um -

When you say

"Surfers need to really use their common sense when using the site and maybe this incident will help remind them of that."

Are you suggesting the woman was in some way lacking in "common sense" that would have prevented her from being raped? Kinda seems like you are. And that is not, not cool.

Um...do I get your drift?

Ok, I'll weigh in on the other side.

Surfers need to use no common sense at all, whether protecting their person or their property, and by ignoring this incident they will all be safer in the future.

more than two sides

CS person cloaked in Anonymity: These two options are not the only two options.

Defensive marketing never quite goes the way one expects it to.

Common Sense....

Might as well make my identity known to at least claim what I wrote. ...yes I wrote Lets clear up a few things....

I am stressing common sense not to insult the victim, but to help possibly prevent such things in the future. Now only going by media reports, she reported that earlier in the evening she was made uncomfortable by her host. Now although our cultures may be different, I know that would have keyed me off that something was not right.

One of my very first experiences with CouchSurfing was an extremely negative one....and I found myself in a situation where I did not know what to do....I feel that if CouchSurfing would have had a more publicly viewable set of guidelines for safety and reporting at that time, I may have felt like I could actually do something. So I can understand why the victim may have been unsure about her site usage.

So in a case like this, one should have left at the first signs of potential danger. If surfers have a better education on what options they have in a case like this and read through the safety guidelines it will better prevent bad experiences. This does not mean that you will always have a good experience though.

There are many hurdles the a company like CouchSurfing has to go through in order to help ensure member safety, but they can only go so far--its up to the user to use their best judgement. As by your previous stats, obviously they are doing something right---the majority of the surfers are have positive experiences. The few negative ones are usually nothing as severe as rape. Considering that this is such a slim number compared to the huge number of surfers, I feel that CouchSurfing is doing a fairly good job. Yes their are loopholes here and there, but each country is so unique it's almost impossible to have a website that has such a small number of people to run it to be able to 100% guarantee all the members will be safe.

And that is why I stress using common sense and arming surfers with knowledge.

And by the way.....I am not an "employee" of CouchSurfing....just a dedicated volunteer.

stats only tell part of the picture

As by your previous stats, obviously they are doing something right---the majority of the surfers are have positive experiences.

That assumes the stats are representative of everyone's experience, which they are not. They are only representative of people who choose to leave references. And as I wrote in my original piece, women who are subjected to traumatic and/or humiliating experiences aren't likely to leave references, negative or positive. There are many other reasons one might not leave a negative reference if it requires them to be identified. Why didn't you leave your real identity when you made your critical comments of this post initially?

Balls/common sence for surfers?!?

First of all I'd like to say that I feel very sorry for this girl.

Second.. CS is not just something to 'use' when you go on your trip. It's a lifestyle. It's not about that free bed when you're traveling, it's about meeting new people all the time, charing your own life when you're back home. You don't have to host, you can just meet people for coffee/drinks.. It's not for everyone, it should have never been as mainstream as it is now.

And it is ABOLUTELY doable to get several real life friends before you start hosting/surfing. You just meet them in your own town, or when you're visiting a city when staying in a place you pay for. I had 5 real friends, 5 very personalized references and even a vouch before I started hosting. And hosted 70 people before I surfed my first few couches.

In other words.. If you are a girl, traveling by herself.. Please do me a favour and 'use' another form of accommodation if you're unable to find reliable/active hosts. Stay with someone who's profile you have read and you think you might learn something from each other..
And if you do get into trouble: get the F*CK out! Always have a back-up plan, use it when you're in trouble. Have an emergency phone number, a second host lined up, a hostel you booked..

I wished people would understand that CS is not just a free place to stay. It not 100% safe, it needs people with balls.. With all these freeloaders (people who just surf and are not active in any other way) the netwerk is getting more and more unreliable.

It has been designed to be similar to hitchhiking really. You rely on other people, but you have to be willing to jump out of the car in case of emergency.

CS actually means casual sex site

CS actually means casual sex site these days and the girls/guys are openely USING it as a dating/sex site... wake up!!!

Problem arises when there are incidents like these.

Probably because she knew

Probably because she knew she would be immediately jumped on and painted as non-trustworthy. And you kind of proved her point by labelling her as a "CS media rep" right off the bat, didn't you?

if it looks like a duck...

I think not identifying oneself as working for CS is an act of dishonesty. She painted herself as untrustworthy by failing to be forthcoming about her role at CS until called on it.

CS is largely run on volunteer efforts--so are a lot of small nonprofits. Crystal is one of CS's PR people, which is a pretty big thing to omit in a post praising/defending the site. On her CS page she writes: "I help run CS Public Relations, if you have any media questions please feel free to contact me ([email protected])!!" She may be a volunteer, but she's one with enough responsibility to have a proper CS email address.

I'm not saying what she says should be discredited or that she's a bad person, just that she made a mistake and should have been forthcoming about her conflict of interest.

OK, point conceded...she

OK, point conceded...she probably should have identified herself as a CS volunteer from the get-go.

That still gives me the feeling that her comments would have been immediately dismissed as worthless simply because she is a CS volunteer. I have a feeling she would have been accused of defending the site, rather than explaining her views on the subject.

In the end, no matter who Crystal is, or what role she plays in the CS framework, it is not up to her or anyone else at CS to completely ensure the safety of people who choose to use the site. And I am not simply limiting that to women, either. Sure, sexual assault and rape is most likely the prevalent concern with sites and situations like this, but you know, rapists aren't the only bad people out there. There are murderers out there, too -- and men can be victims as well as women (and not just of murder, but of sexual assault and rape, as well.)

no doubt

That still gives me the feeling that her comments would have been immediately dismissed as worthless simply because she is a CS volunteer.

I don't doubt some may have felt this way. For myself, it seems an opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation with someone who has some influence on CS's policies, so listening to what they have to say and engaging w/ them in a respectful way is crucial.

As for the rest, see my comment below.

Too kind.

Mandy you are too kind. That woman had a role on the CS Board and should have identified herself clearly. Not doing so shows just a poor attempt to defend a "corporate identity". Instead of making a official statement she abused anonimity. This means that the media machine is on and all following comments can be simply regarded as further SPAM from the CS Board.

This kind of behaviour is unacceptable from a private firm, it's even worse from a supposely no-profit.

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employee versus volunteer

@Crystal Murphy

I make no comment on any of the opinions you expressed in your post entitled "Common Sense..."

However, I think your first anonymous post was absolutely deceitful in context. I can post anonymously because I am just one of a million Couch Surfers who has surfed and hosted. No one who knew my real identity and all the details of my Couch Surfing activity would ever have reason to think that I was either an ally or an opponent of the management team, either a supporter or an opponent of any policy or guideline. The same is not true for you.

When Mandy van Deven cited your email from your Couch Surf profile, it read [email protected] ; but now it reads simply [email protected] . Can you explain why that was changed? Does the change reflect a desire that your blog comments, here or elsewhere, be given greater or lesser authority as a representative of Couch Surfing?

Might you explain whether at the time of your first post here, there was any other person on the Couch Surfing management team with greater authority than you for Couch Surfing's media relations?

(Standard Disclaimer: Yes, yes...I understand that Couch Surfing does not have a management team except on paper to fulfill registration requirements in New Hampshire. I use the term in common parlance as readers of this blog might understand it, whether or not the people who exercise authority also accept responsibility.)

She definitely lacked any sense!

Yes this girl lacked common sense, or maybe any sense.
First, the guys profile says "I will show you a good time"-implying sexual adventure
Next, she drinks-her choice
Then, she stays with a single guy.
Fourth, she doesn't have a backup host.
Fifth, she goes into his room willingly.
She has sex.
She says he threatened to kill her. THEN WHY DIDN'T SHE LEAVE AND FIND SOMEWHERE ELSE TO STAY THAT NIGHT?
Conclusion: She intended having sex with him from the beginning. He didn't want to use a condom. She wanted one. He slid his hotdog in from behind. Later when she felt the man juice inside her she got pissed. She decided to call it rape to get back at him.
So maybe the question is, "Is not using a condom, rape?"

Why be anonymous?

If you're working for CS in some capacity, and that seems likely from your comment, why are you not putting your name, or your CS nick, onto your comment?

Makes it look very shady.

Why I chose to remain anonymous

The main reason I did not give my name before is very simple. I was not here on official CS business. I wished to give a personal opinion. I felt that giving my name and affiliation with the site would make others feel I was making an official CS statement--which leading the PR on the site, is something easily done.

Now that you guys are debating my title and influence on the site with my opinion, I am sure you can see why I wished to remain anonymous. It is hard for me to separate my opinion from something that purely defends the site, due to the fact that I have a unique understanding of the passion and level of commitment from the CS volunteers and how the polices are enacted.

I posted here simply to give my opinion, not to make an official statement for CS...why is my name so important? Even if I didn't run a core team on the site, I would have a similar opinion.

give me a break...

I could almost accept that...if you weren't someone with a background in public relations!

As someone with professional training in this kinda of stuff you surely made a conscious and informed choice to try remain anonymous knowing full and well that you did this to manipulate their perceptions...the fact that you have no qualms about that or don't see that as manipulative doesn't add to your credibility!

Brian Frank, Bitch Media's Finance and Technology Director

Ever wonder what Bitch Media's Comments Policy is?

Give me a break...

@Brian Frank

While I agree with the sentiment of your post, I do think you should look at Crystal Murphy's profile before you characterize her as "a person with a background in public relations."

http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/livincrystalism/

I think you are drawing a natural -- but completely unwarranted -- conclusion from the fact that she has authority for public relations at Couch Surfing, and the fact that her email used to read [email protected] . You might be interested to know that the email on her profile now reads simply [email protected] . It does still say "I help run CS Public Relations, if you have any media questions please feel free to contact me."

And I wonder whether a week from now it will simply read [email protected] with no mention of her role .

CS knew about it in March

In their own statement they admitted that they knew about it in March. They also still wouldn't admit it happened using the words "if proven true". Rather than follow up, they put the responsibility on a victim that had gone to the police and it was considered legit enough for the police to take action. considering how many rapes aren't reported, how few are pursed by the police and taken to trial and still the CS team didn't bother to issue a statement until member started posting the news articles.

for and against

@theo

Supporting your position, I agree that Couch Surfing has done a terrible job in handling this as a public relations incident. (Let me be clear: for the organization it is an incident, for the woman involved it is an ineffably terrible thing.)

Opposing your position, I read the phrase "if proven true" in the same way as the phrase "alleged rapist." The criminal trial had just begun at the time that statement was released, and there was, of course, no conviction. In much the same way, every British newspaper used the phrase "it was alleged" or "a court has heard."

Opposing your position, it is not clear to me that Couch Surfing could have done anything substantially different back in March without incurring liability for defamation or libel under UK law. If you know otherwise, I invite you to add your specific knowledge on this legal question to the discussion here.

Thanks.

(Disclaimer: I surf and host with Couch Surfing. I don't know anyone in authority in the organization, and I have never supported or opposed any policy or guideline.)

I must say, the discussion

I must say, the discussion going on here is much less fiery than the one going on over on the Facebook page!

In any case, I want to throw my two cents in here. I feel very badly for the woman in this case. Her experience is something I'd never want to go through. Having said that, I do have to point out that while it may be a good thing for this CouchSurfing site to put additional safeguards in place to better protect its users, it is ultimately up to each and every individual user to do absolutely everything in her/his power to protect themselves. Having a backup plan in cases like these (especially when you are initially planning on staying with someone who amounts to nothing more than a perfect stranger) is absolutely invaluable.

Now, some might see this as victim blaming. I'm sure some will. However, you will notice that I am not saying this experience was the woman's fault. I'm simply wondering why the maintainers of a website are supposed to be responsible for the personal safety of everyone who chooses to use said site. I don't know about you, but I'm not going to let some faceless board of maintainers be entirely responsible for my personal safety. And why should they be, really?

It's really difficult to force users on sites like these to be honest, as well. The idea of making users fill out a more detailed profile doesn't really help much, when you think about it. As has been already pointed out, sex offenders can still fill out a form, and can have people stay on their couches -- so how a more detailed profile would help prevent situations like this from happening again, I can't really see.

I just think, seriously, that in the end each and every one of us has the duty to ourselves to try and put in place every safety precaution and backup plan available to us -- whether we are going out with friends or travelling halfway around the world to stay with a perfect stranger. It really doesn't matter where you are or who you are with -- unfortunately this is an inherently dangerous world that we live in, and we need to try and keep ourselves safe to the best of our ability, without expecting others to do that for us.

In the end, we are our own best advocates.

free market approach to safety?

Have you ever been to India, Michelle? Or some other country where traffic laws might as well not exist? For people who haven't, let me tell you what happens. Traffic is absolutely horrible, and it can be terrifying to be in a car. (Maybe more if you are a pedestrian as crossing the street is almost like playing Frogger--you know, that old Atari game where you have to jump a step forward then two back then run as fast as you can to the other side--all the while dodging cars and bicycles and rickshaws and motorcycles and other pedestrians.) It's much more dangerous to be in a car in Kolkata than a car in any major US city where there are traffic signals and speed limits and crosswalks and lines painted on the road that people adhere to and seatbelts and helmets and a whole host of other safety measures exist. Because it's more dangerous, more people are killed and hurt in traffic accidents in India than in the US. In fact, according to research that was released today, India leads in road fatalities. More than ANY other country in the world. Now... one could say that's the risk one runs by getting into a car in India and that one should do their best to drive carefully if they do. BUT one could also say, you know, India should really enact and enforce traffic laws to reduce the risk of accidents ALONGSIDE my own individual efforts. Instead of acting as though the two are unrelated, I think it behooves CS to start enacting some traffic laws.

Yes, Mandy, as a matter of

Yes, Mandy, as a matter of fact, I have been to India. I'm well aware of the traffic situation there.

I agree that sites like CouchSurfing should have policies enacted that can better help users determine which people are trustworthy and which people may not be. However, I still believe that in the end, websites like this can put in place all of the policies they want, and the end responsibility still lies with the end user. We *cannot* expect other people to be as concerned for our safety as we ourselves should be; it's not realistic.

I don't know about you, but I don't care how many policies a site like CouchSurfing has in place; in the end, I am simply not going to trust my own personal safety and well-being to the maintainers of a website.

i dont' expect it to be AS concerned...

just doing all it can. ;-)

(BTW, I didn't mean to sound snarky in asking if you'd been to India. I literally was just asking as a frame of reference question, but I see now how it could be "heard" differently than I'd intended it.)

Comments slightly jacked

I happened across your blog today, and have to offer up some information, simply because I cannot let the idiocracy continue. I happen to know quite a few surfers, although I am not one myself. I think that America has this default blame button that they push everytime something happens. We, as people in general, have the distinct responsiblity to make sure that we take care of OURSELVES, not put our trust in anyone else, including people who we have never met before that run a website. I had the priviledge of viewing this profile of the alleged rapist, and it lacked all signs of credibility and trustworthiness. He had one picture, and no more information than just his origin, and a few broken sentences about his "likes". Nothing about who he was, what he does, or anything of the sort. Raise your hands people... if you would go stay with "Jim" who is from "compton" who's only likes are people, pot, and the movie half baked (all misspelled).... no other info. Now, raise your hands if you would stay with "James, a banker from boston who loves rock climbing, swimming, and ping pong. Has 5654184651654 comments that say that he is cool, lives in a public place, fun to be around and even baked a cake when the surfers departure" ? Can we go with option B????!!!! You, as a surfer, have to make the decision, and recognize that being with a stranger that you have no idea who they are, may or may not be dangerous. Use proper judgement people. And what about you? You said you signed up with your partner... what are your credentials? Are you varified, vouched for? Do you have friends? References? Or do you even have a profile at all? You weren't very explicit in giving the details of your profile.... Are you safe to stay with? Obviously the identity of CS "employees" and "users" are to be blasted upon comment, so where the hell is your identity???!!!??? Also, to the head "bitch".... the statistics that you have looked up on the internet for your lovely display about traffic issues in India, is actually based on data gathered in 1998, when Bill was still claiming innocence about his sexual acts, and Tommy Lee was getting arrested for battery. It should be illegal to exude the level of ethnocentricity that you do. What works here... doesn't work everywhere else, but if you weren't self-centered and lame, you may know that. The stats have since changed... so being that your information is dated on even that, I figured that you are probably behind the eight ball on any information regarding this. You should really be ashamed of yourself, making waves where there are none to be had. You seem to be insinuating that it was the actions of CS that instigated the rape instead of properly placing the blame on the man who allegedly commited the crime. I agree with Michelle, that it could occur anywhere in the world, and this is a world is flawed... it is not what it was when we were kids. It is rediculous to have the same naivity. It is obvious that your readers do not agree with you (perhaps because they know how to use google correctly), and use judgement becoming of an adult. Slandering people, creating a fuss, and causing havoc in the vast expanse called the world wide web, solves nothing, and heals nothing. I think that your insults and attacks would be better served somewhere like the National Enquirer-- i'm sure CS would love to give you a reference. Have a nice day. PS... i'm not hiding my identity.. have had ZERO affiliation to CS... but tons of affiliation with the real world.. that somehow eludes you.

bye bye now.
Stephie

there she blows!

Woah! Not sure where to start... or if I even should. Probably I should say that I'm sure Stephie's comment was not intended to come across in the way I've perceived it, and that my own intention in commenting is to point out why some of the things in her comment are problematic or incorrect.

First, the woman who was raped was not American. She was Chinese, and I'm no expert on Chinese culture, but I'd be a little more careful in drawing distinctions about what should and shouldn't be taken as trustworthy based on my own cultural norms and values.

Second, the analogy about whether to stay with "Jim from Compton who can't spell and smokes pot" or "James the outdoorsy Banker from Boston" smacks of racial stereotyping.

Third, what my own CS profile has to do with my ability to make a cogent argument for better safety measures on CS is beyond me, but it's publicly available for all CS members and I'm open to hosting any women (or men traveling with women) who don't find me scary or intimidating--or vice versa. ;-)

Forth, the stats are not from 1998 as you claim. They're from data gathered in 2006 and 2007 by the World Health Organization, which were reported on yesterday. It plainly says that in the article I linked. Though it is possible you're not even addressing me or this particular article. It's at this point that what you've written loses its clarity for me.

Fifth, it's not ethnocentrism to point out the negative correlation between an increase in adherence to traffic laws and a decrease in the number of auto fatalities. Traffic laws are beginning to be enforced by the local governments in urban cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata because they have found this to be true, not simply because "Westerners think they're lifestyle is superiour."

The rest of what you wrote I'll let speak for itself. LOL!

You're offending all the

You're offending all the hard-working citizens and good people of Compton. Compton is not City of God. And many areas are safe. Compton in itself is not the problem. You are the type to be the first one to call Compton "ghetto" only to move 2 blocks away from Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles.

Ooops, I think I overreacted. Carry on.

this is how I think about it.

I think this Mandy chick is probably a little bit of a hypocrite.
Because this one thing happened, now the whole site should change a lot of stuff and bla bla bla.
If a woman gets raped on the streets, of course, the city was wrong by not putting the lights on exactly at that dark spot.
Or the police didnt look good through the city to find this raper.
Couch Surfing, is just a great idea/project.
I have had good experiences only, and pick my hosts very carefully.
This rape or any other could have happen everywhere in this fucking world.
And yes, I do feel sorry for this girl, but that is not a reason for hypocrite media to write about it like this and accusing that site not to be safe for women.
About the vouching and stuff should be better...it easy, and not on CS only, but everywhere, to first get some good references and then turn out to be a raper.
Could be a taxi-driver, a bar tender, a hostel. etc.
Just write about something which fits this site called bitch magazine like a review about your last Nail Polish Remover. Fits you way better.

Let's keep it civil, everyone.

I understand that this is becoming a heated issue for many of the people involved, but please focus your comments on the issue at hand and not on the individuals participating in the discussion. You can give your two cents without disrespecting people and calling them names, and we'd appreciate it if you would do just that.

If you aren't sure of the rules of this blog, check out our commenting FAQ's: http://bitchmagazine.org/about/faq#website

Thanks!

Kelsey Wallace, web editor

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Thanks Kelsey.

I'm not particularly sensitive to anonymous name calling, though it is always a little surprising when it happens. :)

mandy, self promote much?

This entire blog is about getting your self serving website out there as much as possible. Its at the end of every single post.
Look at you, youre so important with the made up title "writer, global advocate, and digital media strategist". Gee youre going to synergize the global brand online? Like every tweeter and facebook blogger?
Anyone can call themselves that. It takes no education, experience or credentials.

The ideal vs the practical

I think that we're all in agreement that rape is egregious and that in the end, we need to try to make the soundest decisions possible in terms of keeping ourselves safe. I think plenty of posters have already emphasized the importance of carefully scrutinizing potential hosts. The simple fact is, travelling is never going to be as safe as we'd like. Leaving your house is unsafe and staying home can be equally unsafe. It's just that kind of world. I don't think your ideas are bad, however, I do think they are impractical, especially considering the audience.

"It must create a system that requires identity/location verification and a fully filled-out profile for all members, as well as regular and thorough profile and CS Group screening for red flags of misconduct. "

We're talking about a community of travelers, many of whom are into low-budget travel. Many spur of the minute decisions are made. I move around quite a bit. I am a master procrastinator. I can barely remember to check on my bank account and pay my taxes much less try to get my location verified by snail mail that will only end up changing in a couple of months. Considering my paypal account was tapped into illegally and this by a company that swears up and down it is safe, I'd rather not have my CC or bank info floating around with CS. CSers tend to be highly mobile and for a good many of us, that information will be out of date in no time. I filled out my profile and slowly built up friends and references. I've been lucky. I've had nothing but good experiences. I am also very careful about who I host and get hosted by. Profiles, references and vouching are pretty effective ways to self-police. No profile, no couch. No friends or references, no couch. Simple. That is my own couch filter. I'm not about to impose it on everyone. Users of the sites are adults and can make their own decisions.

"It should allow for confidential negative public references that give victims the opportunity to speak without fear of retaliation or public disgrace; the identity of the referral writer would be known to CS administrators, but not the referral viewers. "

I think the idea of CONFIDENTIAL reporting to CS officials for any gross misconduct could be benefitial but how do we make it effective? The WWW has no shortage of spiteful trolls, what's to stop one from making a false report on someone else over a simple dispute. As horrible as rape is, I do think those accused of it should have the ability to defend themselves. And that would leave CS, mostly run by volunteers whose experience in detective work and arbitration I would assume are minimal to make the judgement call. It comes down to I don't trust CS's capacity to resolve the serious conflicts that arise between members. I think that is left to local law enforcement or local officials who actually have jurisdiction in these cases. True, not all places have reliable law enforcement but the incident that provoked all this talk happened in England, not some middle-of-nowhere lawless country. The most CS could do is ban a user but there's nothing to stop them from getting back on - even if they had to go throught the hassle of another slow mail location verification.

"CS should require internal notification of and reporting on experiences set up on the site, including an unpublished questionnaire sent to CS administrators with questions about the host's behavior that are analyzed for persistent bad behavior"

CS has no way of following through with that kind of requirement. CS has no idea about the different interactions between CSers. Someone might request a couch but they have no way of knowing if that interaction actually took place or fizzled out at the last moment. They have no idea if anyone actually had coffee or attended an event and they have no means of forcing users to keep records everyone they meet or host. I can barely keep up with my inbox of close friends. People who are traveling have limited time on the internet and I have received references for months and months after our initial interaction. That would put CS in the role of big brother which would make not just a few independent travellers uneasy. As a previous poster stated, CS really is just a well-organized, glorified bulletin board.

I hate that this happened and that it was connected with CS. I hate that rape happens. But the world that exists outside CS also exists inside CS. In the end, users must make the most sound decisions possible with the information provided to keep themselves safe and realize that even so, they are taking a risk and placing faith in fellow CSers. Every CSer has to take that risk. Every CSer needs to decide if that risk is worth it. I say this not because it is a victims' fault if something bad happens. I think it is no one but the perpetrator's fault. But the reality is, it's the victims that carry the burden of consequence and who's fault it was really doesn't have much bearing on that.

IAWTC.

Well said, I agree.

The onus for one's safety on this kind of site, whatever gender one happens to be, rests with the end user. It's as simple as that. If you choose to go sleep on the couch of someone with no references and a barely-filled-out profile, you are taking that risk. CS aren't making you do it.

I also agree on the bit about a lot of CSers being mobile. I've lived in five different places in the last two years, and I have an income too low to let me verify my location every time I move.

I agree fully

http://www.couchsurfing.org/tips_for_solo_women.html

This woman did not follow the rules of safe travelling for independent women travellers. One can be raped even in the "safety" of a hotel. Even the prosecutor said that the couchsurfing site was a reputable place for travellers, and in fact, weirdly enough, the guy wasn't convicted for whatever reason. I'm going to go look that up. But seriously. She went with an offer of a single older Moroccan guy who had no references? What was she thinking? I don't care WHAT country you are from, I am sure your mother *repeatedly* drilled into you the essence of safety. I would have shot my girls had I found out that they were planning to do something like this.

And seriously, if girls go out travelling by themselves, I have no problem with couchsurfing or airbnb, or iStopOver or other social sites, but make sure it's either a woman, a GAY man, an older couple. With many references. There are literally hundreds of thousands of safe couchsurfing experiences. This is an anomaly.

@Mandy - I read your article twice. It is a well written article, but it feels as though you lay the blame squarely on CS, when in fact, it should be on the rapist - the CS site is no more at fault than a bar or a hostel or anything else acting as a social intermediary. I mean, rape is NEVER the fault of the victim. However, one cannot put themselves in a risky position without knowing what the risks are and not accepting them. It VERY clearly states on the CS site how to travel and reduce risks as a solo woman traveller. It does not sound as though this young woman followed these indications. Again, I am not blaming her at all, but she had travelled through CS previously and apparently knew how it worked. She took a chance with her life she should not have. CS should not be held responsible. It cannot possibly know who is or who is not going to commit a crime through the basis of profiles.

- not affiliated with CS except as a profile and my daughter has surfed once, my husband's friend innumerable times.

Hello, i think you

Hello, i think you overreacted with that post.

You said:
"It must create a system that requires identity/location verification and a fully filled-out profile for all members"

-How this would help in that sad Leeds case?? On internet is not hard to find, who had profile on CS, so this extra measure wouldn't help.

"As well as regular and thorough profile and CS Group screening for red flags of misconduct. "
It is hard to be judge about misconduct on CS. Sooner or later you will enter into troubles, which will overcome the benefits of such system. And CS will get subpoenas for handing over datas because of the defamation lawsuits, etc. It sound easier in first place, but it is not easy to enforce that. Lets look at western justice systems, which have huge resources on their hands, and sometimes they still fail.

"It should allow for confidential negative public references that give victims the opportunity to speak without fear of retaliation or public disgrace; the identity of the referral writer would be known to CS administrators, but not the referral viewers. CS should require internal notification of and reporting on experiences set up on the site, including an unpublished questionnaire sent to CS administrators with questions about the host's behavior that are analyzed for persistent bad behavior."
Blah, blah, blah... i don't see any benefits of that system and i don't know where CS can get resources and if CS can assure there will be fair and proper processing of such claims. I don't think so. Sooner or later CS will end in big mess.

"Clearly there are steps CS could be taking to ensure women travelers are just as safe on their journeys as men are."
Maybe this is the point of the problem. Sorry, criminal statistics say that 90 % of rape victims in US of A are females. And it is even worse in countries with more macho culture. It would be much wiser to give proper advices to women traveling and/or surfing alone.

But still, there were 3,5 millions of positive experiences, lets say 5 (for good measure) sexual assaults. It is still quite safe place if you know, that in UK every 200th woman was raped. So i don't see anny need for panic, but people should be aware that there are always some rotten apples in the basket.

Ok, i am usual CS member, you can find me on cs under this username.

CS is just as safe as YOU make it...

I have been following this conversation here and on the CS Paris group since the beginning, and I am really surprised that no one (so far, and on these two boards, I haven't followed the FB group or any other than the ones I just mentioned) ever mentioned CULTURAL DIFFERENCES.

But first a little background... I have been a CS member for a year and a half now. I first met fellow Paris CS members, then hosted a few girls at my place, as I wanted a thourough understanding of the concept, as well as references before surfing myself. I then started to travel around the world for a year and have been hosted by girls, couples and singles guys, have met countless fellow travelers thanks to CS. I can safely say that CS was the best thing that happened to me over the past year, I have nothing but the best experiences to report, and several CSers have become my closest friends.

Now, in the light of that awful event in Leeds, I do realize I have been lucky. Very lucky. But there are certain ways to put luck on your side, even though it's never ever 100% sure. I was conscious of the risk involved in asking a guy to sleep at his place, being a solo female traveler. So my first host being a guy, I thouroughly read his filled-out profile and each reference, and wrote to two girls who had left him references to make sure he was no weirdo. Of course, I could not do that every time, and as I grew to trust in CS with every positive experience, I also lowered my suspicion levels, and increased the risks I suppose. I requested a couch to a guy who had no profile, BUT countless great references, some from girls traveling solo, and photos, and we emailed several times and talked on the phone before I made the final decision. Another one, who seemed great, with a great profile etc., wrote something in one email that made me feel uneasy--it was insignificant and silly, probably just a bad joke, but the weird feeling was real--and I immediately canceled. I will never know if I missed meeting a wonderful human being, or if I avoided an unpleasant experience, but as they say "better safe than sorry". In short, I used what you guys call "common sense"... And in several other occasions, looking for a couch I did not find a profile whose owner I really wanted to meet, and I went to the hostel: again, CS is NOT a free accommodation site...

I totally agree with Jake and others here that, contrary to what Mandy puts out, CS would not necessarily be more secure if it implemented all these security measures. Not even mentioning that MANY good people around the world do not have a credit card and that having a credit card is NO WAY to prove you're not a psycho, it would change the very concept, the very core of CS: that it is an open and free community, a platform to help people meet. The truth is, with CS being now so popular, it makes it harder for us and takes more time to find out who is really "CS spirit", and who are the freeloaders and the sexual predators. Nothing is 100% safe, just as in real life (need I repeat that many rapes are between people who already know each other and even between spouses?!), but taking the time to know your host/guest a little before can lower the risk immensely. After all, you wouldn't open your door to--or sleep in the home of--a complete stranger, would you? Just like you wouldn't take the risk to walk alone at night in certain neighbourhoods, right?

Now, back to cultural differences... I know that my comments may spur outrage at racial discrimination, I am in no way a racist, but I am a traveler and am first-hand conscious of cultural differences that can create the worst misunderstandings (I know, I was married to a guy from another culture...). For many cultures around the world (and for certain guys regardless of culture, I must say), it is simply inconceivable that a single woman would ask to sleep at a single man's home if she is not looking for some kind of sexual encounter. They do not read, or do not understand, or do not want to understand, what CS is about before signing in.

Before I changed my photo, prevented communications from empty profiles and now hid my profile from searches (it is still reachable through direct link from friends or forums, but no in couchsearch), I would regularly receive email from guys who had nothing to do on CS, as their emails were invariably saying the same crap as I would probably receive on a dating site (CS indeed does not have a "Report profile" as in Facebook for example). And I'm sorry to report they ALL came from the same region of the world. This is not to say however that other regions or other cultures are exempted from that, of course. But it is definitely something that every single woman traveler should take into account when looking for a host or choosing a guest. You can always try to make things clear from the start (I've seen requests that explicitely said I'm not looking for sexual interaction). And if in doubt, the most tiny doubt, not even think about it and back out.

All this is of course mainly based on my very own and humble experience, as I am no one to judge any experience that's not mine. Rape is serious stuff, and I feel deeply sorry for that girl, and have been feeling quite uneasy with CS lately and reluctant to host at all, what with all that and all the media attention and too many members... Now, I am entirely convinced that CS is great, but it is no more than a platform where all kinds of people can meet, and just as you choose carefully your own friends, you should choose your guests and hosts equally carefully. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it requires an effort. But then again, you get from it as much as you put into it: CS is not a free accommodation site, it is indeed not for everyone, and shouldn't be.

And in the end, CS is just as safe as YOU make it!

Reply to comment | Bitch Media

It's really a cool and useful piece of info. I am satisfied that you simply shared this useful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

CouchSurfing Safety

Believe there are several things female surfers can do to protect themselves if they are uncomfortable about the idea of CouchSurfing. 1. Stay with a female host. Or if the person hosting is female, only allow female surfers. 2. Surf/host with people that have friends/references. 3. Surf/host with people who are Level 3 verified through the website. 4. Surf/host with people who have been vouched for. 5. Look on the CS'ers profile for their website link-you can tell a lot about a person by their facebook/myspace profile. The more these steps are taken, the less likely you are to have a negative experience.

Personally, just spent the last 2 months CouchSurfing my way across the country from Tennessee to California and back. http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/n8fromknox/
It was the greatest traveling experience I've ever had, and the friends/memories that I made will last a lifetime. Realize that I am a 29 year old male, but everyone can have the same positive experiences I did if they just follow some of the above steps that I mentioned. CouchSurfing has changed my life forever, and cannot wait to go on another CS adventure. I am in no way affiliated or work for CouchSurfing, but I believe the tools are in place on the website for everyone to have a positive experience if they just use them.

Lastly, it's not about finding a "free place to crash". It's about a cultural exchange of thoughts and ideas, learning other peoples' backgrounds/lifestyles, and should be reciprical(if the host wants to stay with the surfer one day, they should be welcomed).

Video was made for me by a CouchSurfer I stayed with in California.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdPNXGNmwUw

Why Must The Onus ALWAYS Be On The Victim?

As it is men perpetuating these crimes, should the onus not be on men to put an end to them? If CS wants to maintain the reputation it claims of providing positive cultural experiences for ALL people, then it should take responsibility for its own actions (or inactions) by implementing safety measures that actually keep people safe.

All individual women do their best to maintain their personal safety while balancing their right to move freely in a world that is antagonistic to and unsafe for them. Hindsight is always 20/20. No woman seeks out a rapist.

CS, however, is NOT doing all it can to ensure its members, particularly its female members, are safe. On the contrary, their own leadership contains sexist men who openly use the site to get laid. The organization continually makes statements that are rife with excuses for mishaps and crimes involving the site instead of strategizing to make needed improvements that are demanded by its membership. Devoid of the particular issue at hand, ignoring your stakeholders' needs and desires is just a poor way to run a nonprofit, and poorly run nonprofits have a tendency to self-destruct. It seems to me that anyone interested in that NOT happening would be invested in CS making necessary improvements to its (dis)functionality.

Onus is not on the victim.

Onus is not on the victim. But still every individual is the first who need to care about his/her personal safety. To trust decisions on safety to some bunch of anonymous sexist men who openly use the site to get laid as you describe them, it is just crazy & stupid.
And your "security measures" are only your ideas, which when you think about them you find out they are stupid, inefficient and they cause only troubles with no real improvements of safety.

I think your posting here is based on some personal bias with some CS members or CS organization. You know, it is a free world, you always have opt out option, even from CS if you don't like it. Just not force your opinions to all other people there....

both/and

Oh for goodness sake, why are folks acting as though this is an either/or situation when what I am clearly saying is that this is a both/and situation?

Jake, aka dude-who-is-largely-not-at-risk-of-being-raped-while-CSing, do you not see the irony in claiming in one breath that women should be the experts on how to keep ourselves safe yet in the next telling women how stupid we are for knowing what needs to happen in order to be safe? How about the irony in telling someone not to force their opinions while, um, forcing your own?

Oh, and ad hominem is a logical fallacy... a boring, tired, and overused logical fallacy.

hey baby you stardet with ad

hey baby you stardet with ad hominem and stuff like and with firing big accusations to CS. i hope someone will sue you and you will have time to prove your claims.

i just say your measures for which you think will make you safe (er) are really ridiculous, because they depend on goodwill of as you claim bunch of men with not the best intentions. to put your safety in hands of some anonymous individuals on the internet is simply stupid. and i am a little bit afraid for you because total lack of security wise common sense you displayed here.

hey baby, world is dangerous place to live and travel, but still most of the rapes happen in family or friend circles and most of the people die at home. what should we do now???

That's what I thought

Another patronizing, sexist guy out to get his titillation on a feminist blog, but really has nothing of substance to add to the discussion and whines when he gets called on it. How sad.

Breathe baby, breathe.

Breathe baby, breathe. Sorry, but the biggest sexist here is you.

sorry baby

but you're gonna have to get your kicks elsewhere from now on.

you have the choice...

Mandy, all the security measures you propose ALREADY EXIST on CS. Except that they are not compulsory. It is up to YOU, as you surf or host, to decide whether you pick the profiles with vouches, credit card verification, references, filled-out profile and pictures, or if you want to take the risk with someone who doesn't have any of these, or just part. The Leeds story proves my point here, as I understand the guy's profile was empty, no vouches, no friends, no references, not verified--though this is obviously not to say that it could not happen with a guy with all this, but I would assume it would be slightly less likely.

Making these safeguards compulsory would just probably kill CS, as a vast majority of members, contrary to what you say, are DEAD AGAINST compulsory paid verification of members. Go have a look on discussion boards on CS, and you will see the debate is scorching hot about verification ever since CS implemented a very dominant (and very ugly) green tick on each member's thumbnail profile picture for verified members, somewhat falsely inducing that having a credit card and permanent location makes you a more trustworthy person--which is indeed highly debatable, especially given the worldwide vocation of CS.

Now, I don't work for CS, and I do agree with you that management leaves MUCH to be desired: it is not open enough, it ignores its members' opinions, but with all due respect, the majority of the latter does not really include yours, Mandy--at least from what I can read in forums. If you want to have a look at many propositions to make CS safer, there is a new discussion board that's pretty interesting, offering suggestions such as to temporarily suspending a member's profile in case of another member's negative report until proof is given, instead of waiting until two police reports are filed, for example: http://www.couchsurfing.org/group.html?gid=22156. It remains to be seen if CS management actually pays attention to these...

And I also agree that many guys do use the site to get laid, but let's not be hypocritical here, just as many women do the same--and apart from the unfortunate even here at hand, I've only heard stories of sex between highly consenting adults...

actually, many of these suggestions do not exist

It's good that there are people hashing this out in the CS forums and groups. I've been following the conversations since I became a member, and yes, there is a lot of disagreement among members about what to do. That's not an excuse to do nothing.

My point in saying that men in the CS leadership openly use the site to get laid is to demonstrate that these guys are setting a poor example for other users for how to use the site in a way that adheres to CS's mission, which says nothing about being a place for hookups. Yes, women do use the site in ways that are less than stellar--such as to find male hosts who they can tease with the idea of sleeping with them (whether they do or not) in exchange for the host paying for their meals, travel, admission to tourist sites, etc. This monetarily exploitative situation where men get duped is not comparable to one where women get raped or sexually abused in other ways (multiple reports of which are all over the same groups and forums of which you speak) by men who misuse the site.

how openly?

Point taken. Though I was in NO WAY comparing what you are comparing--just saying that many women also use CS as a way to get laid, openly or not. No need to extrapolate on the simple statement of a fact, and let feminism become sexism--not good for any of us.

Now, you say "men in the CS leadership openly use the site to get laid". I know it to be a fact by rumors and hearsay. But just how "openly" do they do that? What do you base your assumption on? It's just a genuine question, as I personnaly haven't heard any open or official statement that they are doing so. The fact that it's CS's worst-kept secret is something else than "openly" I believe, but if I've missed something, I'd be sincerely glad to know.

And I don't believe CS is using their members' disagreements as an excuse to do nothing... Things can't change overnight, and even though it may be rightly argued that they have handled this particular crisis poorly, let's give them the benefit of the doubt (it's the first official case, and it's mainly volunteer people working there), and above all, help them make the right decisions by participating constructively in the debate, instead of just saying they're a bunch of *&^%$ (regardless of the fact they might be indeed!!).

In the meantime, stay safe and happy surfing :-)

openly...

as in, on the forums and in the CS groups and to other CS members. Many of the women on CS have been complaining about mistreatment for a long time in the CS groups and to the ambassadors, yet have been largely ignored. So yes, like I stated earlier, perhaps this case will be the unfortunate impetus for much needed change.

Mandy, could you provide the

Mandy, could you provide the links to said groups, or some of them at least? Not that I want you to do any name calling, I'm just curious, and interested in knowing more on the CS female complaints you mention... Thanks.

absolutely

The Feminism, Independent Women, and Women Travelers in India groups have numerous threads where women are complaining of poor behavior by male CSers (including rape and other sexual abuse) and lack of attention to complaints by the CS leadership.

I'm sure there are other threads in other groups, but I haven't thoroughly investigated every single group on CS.

alleged "personal bias"

@Jake

I am curious why you attribute Mandy Van Deven's opinions to "personal bias." She has stated that she believes members of the Couch Surf management team use the site to get laid.

Do you have any first hand knowledge of whether they do? Or are you suggesting that she has no certain knowledge of that question either? Obviously, if she has certain knowledge, then her comments would reflect not bias but simple fact. If she wants to lay out chapter and verse to support her opinion, and name names, I would be willing to weigh those facts as well.

On the other hand, I would be open to the argument that the author really does not know much for certain about the sexual behavior of the management team.

@Jean-Baptiste: Jake is a Troll

This is pretty well reflected in his comments, particularly in his use of "baby" as a means to incite anger or outrage or some other useless response from me when called on his comments lacking substance, and his initial link to some travel shopping website.

That said, how is it possible to have a personal bias against people whom one does not know? I've never met any of the CSing leadership team... at least not to my knowledge.

Here are some interesting thoughts from people who do know one of the founders, though I see your name on this site so you've probably read this already:
Casey Fenton Must Go

And here are complaints about CS Ambassador bad behavior, CS men's abuse of the forum for sex, how CS leadership "hush up" sexual abuses, etc. from CS members in one of the site's groups.

There are plenty more like these available through your own Google search.

BTW, I think it would be prudent for you to link your own CS member page.

offering an opinion

@Mandy van Deven

It might have been helpful to your readers, and it certainly would have made for a more honest discussion, if you had written the first line of the original article differently.

Instead of writing:

Perhaps the recent incident where a 29-year-old woman from Hong Kong was repeatedly raped by 34-year-old Abdelali Nachet in his flat in Leeds, UK isn't your typical CouchSurfing experience, but it's exactly the kind of experience I could not shake from my mind as I filled out my profile on the site six months ago.

you might have started with:

CS, however, is NOT doing all it can to ensure its members, particularly its female members, are safe. On the contrary, their own leadership contains sexist men who openly use the site to get laid.

If you had started with this line instead of saving it for the comments section, you might have elicited a response from "Anonymous" (Crystal Murphy, [email protected]). Since she claimed to have posted her purely private opinions, she might have told us whether the knows any of the management team personally, whether she considers any of them sexist, and what she knows about their actual sexual behavior.

While your article has undeniably generated a lot of comment, it's likely that this alternative opening line would have produced even more.

advice of my own

J-B: I'm sure this comment comes from a place of wanting to be helpful. Because I don't know you, it comes across as patronizing.

Neither safety suggestions nor complaints have been heard

Hi Mandy, thanks for writing and continuing the discussion.

To those who say 'it's all on YOU' to be safe" and "CS has done everything it can do" - the response to both of these is WRONG.
CS has received MANY good suggestions as to how to improve safety, without invading people's privacy. They have been ignored. Even worse, their current policies (such as how the Safety Team handles problems) literally make people less safe. If there is a negative report or a danger, all parties are asked not to discuss it; there is no blacklist of people with large numbers of negative references; there is no information on why a profile is deleted - when in fact all profiles should be maintained with a 'deleted for cause' (easy to put in the Terms of Use, then no legal problems there) status; the method for reporting a 'problem with a member' (unlike craiglist say) is quite difficult; Safety's usual response to problems is to get people to negotiate negative references down to neutral ones, or removing them, rather than encouraging everyone to leve the most HONEST reference they can. The question of retaliatory references has never been addressed, even though a solution was claimed more than two years ago; there are insufficient and poorly trained Safety members in place to follow up on complaints (like, if one harassment complaint is made, check with other surfers/hosts to see if complaints should have been made but were not due to cultural, fear, or other reasons.

Most importantly, culturally targeted messages to ovrcome the assumption of 'solo women are looking for sex' have not been put into place - indeed little of the site is translated into local language clearly plain to non-English-speaking cultures.

The number of harassed women is in the hundreds, if not the thousands - check the Independent Women boards on the site and many other places. Ask the Safety Team for statistics never published on how many reported harassment cases there have been- guaranteed they will NOT tell you, but it would be good to have this clear. Secondly, negative references are removed from system statistics after they delete a member who has received them - thus their 'positive experiences' stats are just false. Thirdly, the only thing that gets people in positions of power who are abusing that power in terms of harassing women, is public scrutiny. Multiple ambassadors who were harassing/molesting women were left in place despite MANY reports against them, until member outcry required their removal. Even then they have been left as members (with all their vouches received as ambassadors) with NO mention that they were removed as ambs for A NEGAtiVE REASON. There is no reason not to do so (and don't give me that libel argument, it simply has to be worded correctly in the Terms of Use so that people agree not to treat this as libel.)- so why not do this for both deleted members and ambassadors? Not doing so is not providing relevant safety information, for which CS can be held responsible. The 'no naming and shaming policy' - very unevenly applied - is also problematic in that people cannot report very real thieves, harassers, rapists, etc openly on the network.

Overall for many years CS has been avoiding its responsibilities in this area and have refused to include safety measures (there is a wiki compiled of the loopholes in safety, see the Brainstorm group notes, and a new group on Safety barely noted by CS itself) proposed by responsible, aware users of the site. 'Reputable' known members drugging their surfers, webcamming them secretly in their bathrooms, and repeated harassment by ambassadors are a few of the known problems - have any of these been dealt with? Is CS assisting in correlating info on the KL drugger, or the Holland webcammer, as they should? Almost certainly not, but if so, public reportage of this would be reassuring.

This aside from cultural confusion about CS' purpose, which could be cleared up through better 'education' of MALE members in specific problem cultures. To espouse support for cultural diversity while NOT taking it into account in terms of safety, and while making a big deal of all the 'safety' features on the site, is purely hypocritical and irresponsible.

Since so much of this has been documented on site discussion groups that the leadership could be expected to take note of (and repeatedly asked to), they can expect to be held liable in later cases. I would hope that would be enough reason to take action and note that many member suggestions are reasonable, warranted, and beneficial - rather than only promoting verification. I expect many new problems with the occurring exponential influx of members. Those who care about couchsurfing should force the issue so that legal problems don't shut down the site.

now, we're talking!

Thank you, Laser for this well-written, well-articulated, non-sexist constructive and intelligent argument, that doesn't pretend you have the best solution to everything and your ideas and opinions are the only good ones to make CS a better place--a breath of fresh air.

I believe you have a very important point with the need to embrace cultural diversity in all its aspects, namely in matter of safety. I have noticed that it is, however, a touchy subject, as people are fast to point out a hint of racism and each person has their own definition of where the borderline is, so the topic is rarely addressed unfortunately.

"many member suggestions are reasonable, warranted, and beneficial - rather than only promoting verification": thank you for that! Even though I'm a verified member, I was always convinced verification could never be the panacea for safety on CS, no matter how much they're promoting it, and I know most CS members agree on that. As you say, it is crucial that the CS management start paying attention to these suggestions. But, as one who cares about CS, I am unsure on how to force the issue, since messages to the MDST are usually met with an automated "thank you for your message" answer... Where to go from there???

your slanderous comments

Provide evidence for this statement "CS, however, is NOT doing all it can to ensure its members, particularly its female members, are safe. On the contrary, their own leadership contains sexist men who openly use the site to get laid."
You know this how? Specifics please.

A DUH(!) moment

I can't fathom anyone thinking CS is a particularly great idea in today's world. Heck, in any world. When would it ever be a great idea for a woman to stay over night in a stranger's home? Is this something we'd do with anyone even right in our own cities and towns? I'd have no desire to put myself in a strange situation halfway around the world either. I kinda just don't get it. Vulnerability is high on my list of red flag items. I simply don't expose myself to 'potential' danger. It's worked thus far.

problems w/ this line of argument

how many things must women be excluded from participating in for fear of their safety? this is a psychically forced exclusion. there is no fail-safe, and women shouldn't have to live in fear of being harmed while men (more specifically, straight men) travel the globe freely (literally and metaphorically). this is a matter of freedom. not exposing oneself to potential danger only goes so far. and for many of us, despite our best efforts, it has not worked because the truth is that in a world where men rape, women will be raped regardless of what precautions they take personally. this is why safety needs to be addressed on an institutional level in addition to a personal one. the institutions that ignore (and therefore passively encourage) the abuse of women are a part of the problem.

is there a female-only version of couchsurfing.org ?

Just wondering. Is there a female-only version of couchsurfing.org? Meaning, an organization of couchsurfers, whose entire staff and membership (hosts as well as couchsurfers) are female. Wouldn't that drastically (one would hope entirely!) eliminate the danger of rape and other awkward situations described in this thread? If such an organization exists, please let me know!

If you’re female and you

If you’re female and you only want to surf and host other females you can easily chose to do so on the current couchsurfing site. To make it easy there are functionalities to filter on gender, like when searching for a host you can specify to only get female members in the search results.

I wonder why you think it is useful to have a separated community only for females. And especially I wonder what de advantage is to forbid male members to be part of the staff of this all-female community?

no there isnt

women don't want to host or create the site. they want men to do all the work so they can complain. a female only couchsurfing would have 10 people in each city.

Just my opinion.....

I think it comes down to common sense. The Internet can be dangerous for men or women and people need to do their research and understand as much about what they are getting into before they actually jump into something.

I have used CS for years and have always had great experiences with it. That being said, there have been a few instances where I did feel uncomfortable with my host. I have no particular incident to report, but even if I did, I would be hesitant to leave a negative reference.

It did not stop me from using CS, but my concern with using CS now is that there are people on the site that do take advantage of girls and no one knows about it because everyone is afraid to leave bad references.

Recently, my friend passed along a link to a new site that is similar to CS, but (in my opinion) much better and safer to use. The site is called https://www.tripping.com . Besides it being more organized and user friendly then CS, they have an anonymous rating system for people to use in case they do have a bad experience with their host. I was kind of surprised to read and learn about their whole Tripsafe program too! It seems they have their act together and it looks to be a much safer alternative to CS.

Definitely worth a look! :)

couchsurfing

I've been a member of the couchsurfing community for close to three years. One of the best "safety checks" implemented by this network is the reference system.
According to this article:
http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/Chef-accused-of-rape-says.5551728.jp

this rapist/FORMER member of couchsurfing.org did not have any references posted on his profile. She was his first couchsurfer.

As a single woman travelling abroad this fall I am excitedly/happily planning on couchsurfing all the way. However I'm carefully studying each profile and paying particular attention to how many good references each host has.

In my opinion, it wasn't the smartest move in the world to stay with a single man, with no references, from an Arabic country.

Keep Tripping

I agree. A friend of mine showed me Tripping.com and what caught my attention was the focus on safety. They have features like TripSafe and the emergency line that would make me sleep much better at a host house. Even more, they just released the Networks, which sounds like you can look for people with similar interests. So if you love wine, please join and keep tripping: https://www.tripping.com/network/29

Stalker left in peace. CS goes after the victim.

"perhaps the media attention it is getting over this unfortunate event will prompt it to take action. Let's hope it does."

Well, they didn't learn anything from it.
Check out this: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_149000998481828

It says it all. I reported a stalker to CS. As a result they deleted my profile.

Looking at things carefully.

Mandy, I appreciate you asking the question.

As a middle-class white male it's something I don't intuitively have a good beeline on.

However, I think since this article comes up on the first page when someone googles Couchsurfing, a little more careful thinking is in order.

I have maybe 70 surfing experiences, so I'm not just speaking hypothetically here. You can check out my references.

First, discussing rape is like invoking Godwin's Law. It is going to make things really intense really fast, evoking an emotional response you yourself experienced. As a journalist, it's up to you to think about that response before burdening others. I'm not sure a single reported rape should be your lead-in unless you're more worried about your pagerank than you are about women's safety. But once brought up, it must be addressed.

Understand that I am in no way trying to diminish the personal nature of sexual assault, but rather trying to make sense of some complicated decisions affecting people's quality of life.

CS reports over 5.7 million positive experiences, and I am only aware of one publicly reported rape. RAINN says "60% of sexual assaults are not reported" To be safe, let us suppose the report rate is 10%, so that makes 10 rapes. Let's say CS likes to brag. We'll only give them 570,000 positive experiences. That's 1 rape for every 57,000 great experiences. And I really mean great. Read people's comments on couchsurfing. When it goes well, it's transcendently life-changing.

RAINN also reports one out of every seven women has been the victim of rape in her lifetime. The National Crime Victimization Survey claims closer to 1/2,500. Ballpark numbers. We're still enormously far from the CS rate of 1/57,000. Based on a rough estimate, you're 23 times more likely to be raped as a random American woman than you are as a randomly selected couchsurfer. I know this is crude, but it's to give you some context when you realize your article and petition probably have scared and are scaring off thousands of potential couchsurfers...the vast majority of whom will be safer couchsurfing than in a hostel or staying with a friend-of-a-friend. I don't think the case can be made that surfing is any more dangerous than more traditional means of travel.

I am one for putting my money where my mouth is. I'd love to see you come up with or add a tips reference for surfers.

Anonymous reporting seems like a quick way to encourage rampant abuse. It's a basic part of the US Constitution- you have a right to face your accuser. Now, if CS is deleting profiles because people are accusing each other of sexual misconduct, that's a serious problem. I don't know what's really going on.

One good way to maintain control in a situation where you're worried about people stepping on your civil liberties is to keep a cellphone, camera, camcorder, or voice recorder handy when you're meeting a potentially sketchy surfer. Most reasonable surfers are cool with you wanting to document your travels, and if someone says something inappropriate, you'll now have an audio record. It's no longer your word against his. Also, people often think a lot more carefully about whether they might be doing something wrong when they're on film. Your would-be rapist is probably camerashy.

Will this eliminate the risk of sexual assault? Absolutely not. But it is a deterrent, and more importantly, you can now warn others with compelling evidence. In quality control, this is known as Corrective Action. Verification, Vouches, References, and a skype chat with your soon-to-be-host are Preventative Actions. I think CS could benefit from implementing better CAPA strategies. I agree with you that they could be doing more, like freezing accounts in stead of deleting them, to more easily allow accountability. They could also impliment a better explanation for how to get into couchsurfing safely...rather than pages and pages of hyperlinked text to sift through.

ex: http://www.5min.com/Video/What-is-Couch-Surfing-171069300

If you don't know how to make your intentions clear, and do some research- CS is not for you. If you want 100% safety all the time, CS is not for you- but then again, neither is traveling in general. If you want uplifting human experience with rare drawbacks, try surfing. Most people take drugs with scarier risks of side-effects than Couchsurfing- and probably lesser benefit as well.

Personal anecdote- my last time traveling, I had two really unfortunate experiences staying with friends. Sadly, a string of events largely beyond any one person's control led to first one, and then another person who I really respect and admire not speaking to me. This was, uh, emotionally "taxing" on me, and also threw my timing and financial plans out of whack, and I wound up needing an emergency couch, as much psychologically as anything. I was able to make a last-minute request. That request led to some of the most rewarding experiences, and meeting more interesting people, than I'd encountered for weeks beforehand. I cannot stress how repeatedly and reliably CS has opened my eyes to new ways of seeig the world I live in. It has made me more trusting, more generous, and feeling more connected to humanity than I ever felt before. I have been surfing for years and have only ever heard two first-hand seriously negative experiences, both of which were scary but neither resulted in any lasting harm.

The benefits of CS far outweigh the risks. Please take the time to discover and understand this, and then amend your 2009 post. I will gladly talk more if I can be of any help.

CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world!

CouchSurfing for Ladies

I am a very small girl (5 feet tall) and have couchsurfed through Japan and Europe, more to come. Had some odd experiences but nothing scary. Here's my full lowdown: http://thriftyfingers.blogspot.com/2010/06/couchsurfing-verdict.html

I just had a TERRIBLE

I just had a TERRIBLE experience with a couch surfer who hosted me and my friend in New Delhi for 5 days. Now, from day one I

felt that something was wrong and I advanced my date of departure by 24 hours just because the moment i went inside the

house, I knew something was going to happen. Ok so everything was fine for 2-3 days, on the 4th day the host and my friend

were drinking and I joined them for some talks....(I did not drink), ...it was nothing offensive....but that was the first

time I really talked to the host....I was always aloof and formal...I did not feel like even smiling at him although he gave

us a separate room and everything...

So now the real story starts.....I left that place on 6th Aug and my friend came to the station to see me off....the host had

left in the morning and I did not see him on that day.....I sent him an sms thanking him for everything...

After 3-4 hours I got an sms from the guy stating that I had STOLEN some jewelry from his house and that he had proof !!!!!!

I was SO SHOCKED that I actually thought he was JOKING!! I sms-ed him back saying I didnt steal anything and that he should

stop accusing me. He replied back saying I was playing games with him!!! He also said he has had such experiences before??

What does that mean??? Couchsurfers have stolen stuff from his house before?? If yes then WHY did he host us???

The real SHOCKER was the next call I got from my friend ! SHE was supporting him ! I asked her whaT PROOF they had and she

said nothing....she just told me to return the jewelry. I sent an sms asking the guy to send police to my house if he wants

to because I have nothing to hide. I M NOT A THIEF !!

As soon as I reached home I saw that there was a missed call from my friend ! I called her back and this time she accused me

of stealing her money!! I reminded her that she had stayed with me for like 3 days and she had lost NOTHING ! She told me "I

cant hear you" and hung up....I sent her a detailed message saying that she stayed at my house so freaking peacefully and

suddenly I turned into a thief as soon as I went to Delhi???

I am goin to file an FIR with the police

I have reported the host to the CS system as well though I dont know whether they will take any action....

CS safety

There are many cases of agressions using CS and the corporation don't communicate about them; for example in Marseille: http://secretfatty.net/An_engineer_from_Marseilles_found_his_prey_using_...

Couchsurfing Overrides Reference System to Silence Victims

I was recently taken advantage of by a man I met through Couchsurfing. I came out about this story via blog, which has had over 12,500 views. My assailants are not happy that i am speaking out. One of these men happens to be a Chicago couchsurfing moderator. First, he copied and pasted messages about me which i deemed threatening all over multiple couchsurfing and facebook message boards. I refused to respond.

Today, i got a notification that the negative reference left on my assailant's profile as a warning to other women has been removed. MY REFERENCE HAS BEEN REMOVED. Appearantly, Couchsurfing has found my need to speak out and help other women "abusive".

This comes after I had requested to have the abusive reference of another man who was sexually harrassing me removed from my profile. Couchsurfing responded that they couldn't remove it becuase it is their policy to allow ALL members free speech and the freedom to speak out about other members by using the reference system (I have this in email). Meanwhile, thousands of victims of couchsurfing predators either have degrading negative messages left by their assailants permanently attached to their walls, or else are stimigtized into silence by the threat of having negative references posted to their own wall.

Dear Couchsurfing: How does a man who is a THREAT to women get a negative reference REMOVED from his profile, when all the victims of sexual harrassment and/or abuse are out there being forced to wear the negative references received from their assailants like SCARLET LETTERS?

This is a MAJOR injustice, stigmatization, and threat to a woman's right to SAFETY! Do you really wish to take away our power to warn one another about predators?

Justice for some? How can women protect one another if we are denied our voice and ability to use the reference system, the same system you insist is in place for our own safety?

http://dangersofcouchsurfing.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-dangers-of-couchsurfing.html#!/2012/11/the-dangers-of-couchsurfing.html

Kat cyberstalking Thiago from couchsurfing

The person "Kat" who wrote this post hosted a much younger Brazilian man "Thiago" on couchsurfing. They became a couple in a relationship and he lived with her. Then he broke up with her and moved out. She first drove 1000 miles to confront him at another host's house. Then she cyberstalked him for months. After posting dozens of hateful comments about him on lots of sites she finally stopped. Her allegations against him were never proved and she never filed a police report. The upshot: She got dumped by her lover and she took revenge on him, and anyone who defended him (Justin T). Women come on to and have sex with men on couchsurfing too.

On the Map: Is CouchSurfing.org Safe for Women? | Bitch Media

My brother recommended I might like this website. He was entirely right.
This post actually made my day. You can not imagine just how much time I had spent for this info!
Thanks!

On the Map: Is CouchSurfing.org Safe for Women? | Bitch Media

Yes! Finally someone writes about Panic Away.

On the Map: Is CouchSurfing.org Safe for Women? | Bitch Media

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On the Map: Is CouchSurfing.org Safe for Women? | Bitch Media

I think that everything said made a bunch of sense.
But, what about this? suppose you added a little information?
I ain't saying your content isn't solid, however what if you added something that
makes people desire more? I mean On the Map: Is CouchSurfing.

org Safe for Women? | Bitch Media is kinda plain.
You could look at Yahoo's home page and see how they create article headlines to get viewers to open the links. You might try adding a video or a related pic or two to get readers interested about everything've got to say.
Just my opinion, it might bring your posts a
little livelier.

If you are so worried about

If you are so worried about CS and making it sounds most of its members are psychos, then maybe you should not use it, nobody is forcing you

Positive Experiences

I allow people to stay with my boyfriend and I, and have had nothing but great experiences. Then again, I carefully screen, and my boyfriend was a pro fighter; I can count on him for our safety. Bad things can happen, but I figure driving in the car is more risky. If I was a single woman, or he was out of town, I would only allow one female to stay with me. I have met amazing people through this site and will continue to use it; it's a great tool as long as you are careful.

I don't trust Couchsurfing at

I don't trust Couchsurfing at all. I have used it a few times in emergencies only when needing a place to stay. However, I did have a couple of frightening experiences with male hosts on the site, one in Australia and one in Europe. I was not assaulted, but I was lucky. In both those cases, the men seemed very strange and both woke me up in the night wanting favours, which I refused to give. I got away from the places as soon as possible and reported them both to the police and to CS. In both cases, the hosts didn't have references and I was in a hurry and confused them in both cases with other hosts who did. But one of them had a "female roommate" who was a troubled girl he was using as a decoy. He had rigged the entire apartment so it would have been difficult to escape had I needed to. The other had a male roommate who kept out of the way (so had the girl). I believe that both let me go easily since I was very confident and also angry with them at the time, not nervous (I felt that after I had left though).

Aside from this, all male hosts I met, except one Christian guy staying with his family (other male hosts I met were in mixed groups such as with their families) and except for men in couples turned out to be only using CS as a way to pick up women, even if they were outwardly polite about it. Most were very rude, angry, or even verbally abusive when they found I wasn't going to be picked up. They would begin rather "normal" and pleasant and then suddenly change without warning, ostensibly when they were frustrated at not getting what they wanted.

Most women were not pleasant either, except initially. It seems they were only into hosting to accumulate "brownie credits" so that they could more easily be hosted when they went abroad.

Almost no one was sincere, and many experiences were extremely unpleasant. In very poor countries, many people host so as to be able to get into the West somehow. For example, in one country, although I did not have anyone try directly to pick me up, I did have a couple of marriage proposals from guys I hardly knew, and only on the friendship level, since as one of them directly admitted, he needed to more easily get a Western residence visa.

CS is extremely unpleasant especially for a woman travelling alone. It is also very unsafe. Don't use it.

I just wanted to add that

I just wanted to add that even though there are a large number of positive messages on CS profiles, many more than the negative ones, they don't seem to be accurate. All the guys I mentioned, except for the two obviously dangerous experiences, had positive references, and some had whole strings of these references. Some of them had most of their positive references from women, for obvious reasons (not that the women were necessarily involved with them, but at least a few were).

Some people will leave positive references since the other person gets in first and does the same for them, and they don't want to lose their own positive references, so they respond in kind. If someone has a bad experience that is not so obviously dangerous that they'd take it to the police as I had with those two, they may just say nothing since the concern would be that if they left a bad reference for that person, the person would twist the experience around and then leave a bad reference for them, distorting their own profile and confusing those who read it. Often references are left by people who already know the person personally and are doing them a favour. Also, with bad references, the person always has the option of simply deleting their profile and starting again.

The person who criticized someone for mentioning bad experiences should not judge them for having used CS. Before learning the truth about it, they obviously hadn't known, and once they had a couple of bad experiences they may have continued a bit longer since they had heard that this is rare. If you didn't have any bad experiences, you were just lucky.

It doesn't make sense to me that someone just stay in another's home for free after just contacting them through the internet. It is a very big risk. We all know about murders that have occurred through people meeting via other internet channels; this is the same. I have sometimes had very positive experiences when travelling and meeting people face to face who then invited me to their homes. Even then I had to be cautious, but my gut feeling functions much better when I actually meet the person first, made friends even briefly, and then decided to accept their invitation.

The author is totally off base

The author is paranoid, angry, suspicious and should absolutely NOT use couchsurfing for hosting, surfing or anything else. Her statement that PERHAPS a person that was raped is not a typical experience shows her ignorance. CS and other sites and organizations like it (hospitality club, be welcome, servas, etc etc etc) has been around for many years. Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands have surfed without incident. A small minority have problems. A TINY minority are victims of crimes. To think that CS is more dangerous then any human interaction is naive. Many or most people are raped by someone that they know. Staying with a friend is not safer then couchsurfing. A very easy way for women to feel safer is only to stay with females, couples or gay men. Women are their own worst enemy with couchsurfing because the minority host anyone including women. Most CS hosts are male. Until women step up and start hosting women, they will keep creating their own problem.
CS and any site where people meet is just a portal. Its not respnsble for running background checks on all its members.
It does have the vouch and references and verification systems. Adults take responsibility in accepting risks in their lives.
In the United States and other nations an accused person is innocent until proven guilty and has the right to face their accused. That is the law and its ethical. Every accuser is not always ethical and not always right. There was an incident in the USA where a dumped girlfriend her met her guy while hosting him on CS stalked him for months and ruined his reputation on varius sites. It came out that he did nothing wrong.
Paranoid travellers should NOT couchsurf.

RE: Couchsurfing Overrides Reference System to Silence Victims

The person "Kat" who wrote that post is the one I wrote about. She hosted a much younger Brazilian man "Thiago". They became a couple in a relationship and he lived with her. Then he broke up with her and moved out. She first drove 1000 miles to confront him at another host's house. Then she cyberstalked him for months. After posting dozens of hateful comments about him on lots of sites she finally stopped. The upshot: She got dumped by her lover and she took revenge on him, and anyone who defended him.

for couchsurfers

here is a little guide i wrote together for the couchsurfing community to finance their trips =)

http://mikula.beutl.com/couchsurfers-guide-to-money/

if you have questions just contact me on skype, email or social media
enjoy!

I have to say the answer is negative

I had three bad experiences:

1. A guy named Morgann Paraskevas with membership of courchsurfing, masturbated twice in front of me when I was being hosted by him. And he walked naked in his house in front of me. He asked me to hold his dick and I refused. The next morning, he kicked me out of his place 20 mins after I was told I had to leave immediately. This case happened in Rockville Maryland.

2. A guy named Gio Navarrete with membership of courchsurfing, promised he would pick me up around 6pm. But he hold me up a whole night to ask me a bunch of stupid questions. Eventually he didnt show up to keep his words. This case happened in San Francisco.

3. A guy named Michel Goret, also a member of courchsurfing, pretended to be nice and polite at first. He showed me around the town and treated me decent food but step by stpe he asked for more. After I rejected to be kissed by him, he made up a pretext and wanted me to leave before my scheduled time. This case happened in San Francisco.

If you are a solo female traveller, I strongly suggest that you should be hosted by a female.