Creeped out by couchsurfing


#1

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#2

I recommend investing in one of these:


#3

If you RTF she makes it pretty clear how to Couchsurf. Go off reviews and recommendations. If it looks strange, don't go. Is there some element of risk? Sure. It doesn't have to be high though. In that woman's second attempt, when she followed the advice on the site, she did it exactly right and had a good experience. I personally haven't Couchsurfed, but a friend of mine used to offer up his place. He was picky about who he let in, but overall he said he had a great experience meeting people from all around the world. He had good reviews, and so when he went out and about, he had a pretty easy time finding places to crash. Granted, as a woman, you have to be a lot more defense, but I wouldn't write off couchsurfing. Most people are generally good, and there are few ways better to meet friendly locals who wants to meet friendly travelers.


#4

Depends on the individual.

I hosted over 100 people over about two-three years in a one-room apartment when I was single. Sex never came up, and the one or two guests who seemed interested were not overt about it and I didn't have to awkwardly refuse any advances.

While travelling my girlfriend (now wife) and I met dozens of interesting hosts, and although obviously travelling as a couple will have automatically filtered out most creeps, in every case it was nothing but a positive experience for everyone involved.


#5

Yeah, what? This is one of those things that make me wonder if I live in an alternate universe. In my admittedly rather limited experience with couch surfers, the primary consideration has been having a place to sleep. Full stop.


#6

But that is too rational and doesn't make a sensational or exciting story! smile Sometimes the story makes itself, sometimes you have to make the story.

Did you hear about hotels? I hear they are full of creeps who have loud sex so the people in the adjoining rooms can hear them, and people who intentionally expose themselves to maids. See, easy, peasy...lol.


#8

I agree. It's just another variant of the "stranger danger" story the US public is quite fond of.


#9

I used to get confused when I would talk about my mostly positive experiences hitch hiking- It wasn't so much that the women I was talking to, had so much worse experiences... It was that, for them, the stakes were so much higher. That was probably my first time being confronted with my unexamined male privilege.

Hard to imagine that a creepy host would get many repeat visits in a system like this. When guessing wrong could have such dire consequences, it certainly would give me pause.


#10

The linked website doesn´t scroll, neither in Firefox nor Safari. Only way to scroll is by marking the text and dragging the cursor down. Is it broken or am I stupid?

On topic, if I were a woman, I´d never stay alone over night in the apartment of a complete stranger, one that I probably hadn´t even talked to in person before. Even as a man, I´d probably sleep very lightly at best. It´s pretty much the most vulnerable position you can put yourself in.


#11

I've had similar experiences, but we've always hosted as a married couple with kids, so we're probably not going to be targeted by creeps as much. We are pretty careful about who we invite, and while we do occasionally accept first-timers, that would be after spending some time talking with them and getting a good idea of who we're dealing with. We tend to prefer people who want to stay for longer than a week, as it makes it a bit easier for the kids if they can get to know someone. We also tend to accept single women more than men, as they are probably more vulnerable to this kind of experience than guys and and appreciate having their own room. One woman we recently had over also had to share a bed with a guy before she came to us; she was a bit more matter of fact about it though (probably because the guy was up front about it in the invitation) and just appreciated having somewhere to sleep for a night.

The closest thing we've come to a bad experience was when a guy asked to stay with us. We didn't like the look of his profile and refused, but we heard from some other couchsurfers that he was wanted by the German police. Apparently someone had invited him to stay at their house while they were on holiday, at which point he set up a rental contract on the house with some other people, then disappeared with the deposit. I have no idea if that's just an urban legend (or even possible), but I can't find any evidence of this story online. Another time we invited a single guy who turned up in the early hours of the morning with another guy he hasn't told us about. Apart from being a bit weird and disorganized, they were both good people (they were also two of the main people in Occupy Hong Kong and said I could come and stay in the bank whenever I wanted).

I wonder what the statistics of abuse are for Couchsurfing when you compare it with a baseline for a normal community, or for something like burning man or a concert where you have a lot more contact with people you don't know? I find you get a good picture of most people by looking at their profile (which does need to be fairly full and descriptive before we accept them) and we've never been particularly surprised at someone once we've met them.


#12

I had an interesting experience of this when my wife (then girlfriend) first visited my city in England. I could walk through the centre without any problems and didn't really notice anything when I was with her either. Still, she hated walking there alone as she'd get whistled and shouted at from across the street. Based on my own experiences, I would interpret a glance by someone while we were walking together as neutral, but she would often see it as much more aggressive. The first couple of times she pointed it out I thought she was being paranoid, but then she'd tell me what went on when I wasn't there.


#13

Few weeks ago a cop (carabiniere) in Padua, Italy was jailed because he drugged and raped at least two girls (one was 17 yo) thanks to couchsurfing. Yes, very creepy.


#14

Male privilege is a good point to raise, but as a counterpoint I can only recall two of the ~40 or so single women who stayed in my single room apartment ever mentioning a disconcerting experience with Couchsurfing, and neither of them were serious or particularly upsetting... and these were all, obviously, women willing to risk sharing a room with a total stranger.

No wait, I do have a creepy Couchsurfing story that I had totally forgotten until just now, and it happened in my apartment too!

I had agreed to let a woman stay at my place, but had double-booked as I was touring with some motorbike enthusiast friends on the mainland. Instead of turning her down and leaving her without a place to stay at the last minute, I left a key for her, went touring, and got a call that evening saying everything was fine. That night, when my friends and I had stopped at a guesthouse and gotten absolutely hammered on vodka, I got a tearful call at ~2am from this woman. She said she'd opened her eyes to see a young Japanese guy in T-shirt and jeans lying on the futon next to her! She screamed, he bolted, and after she collected herself she locked the door that she'd left open. Apparently she went to the police the next day, but left that same day, so we never met in person. I made a point of reminding all my guests to lock the door from that point on, and the random Japanese guy remains a mystery.


#15

Had the same problem. Seems like a dumb way to set up a website.


#16

I'm sure that also happened many times in the same time-frame thanks to bars or clubs, and certainly thanks to alcohol. The issue is not so much whether this activity is perfectly safe (it obviously isn't, and the risks are disproportionately carried by certain groups), but whether the dangers are enough to make the whole experience too risky. Most of our guests are single girls who have been on Couchsurfing for a while, but they seem to have had almost exclusively positive experiences.

Even in the case of the policeman, this was a lot less likely to happen on Couchsurfing than after a Friday night at a pub. The girls had the name and address of the host, or at least were a lot closer to getting it than if they had hooked up with someone while they were out. You can get a good idea of who someone is by reading their profile and reviews, and we have seen profiles where girls have written that the person is creepy and they definitely don't think other girls should stay with them. It's not a guarantee that you won't have any bad experiences, but it's a lot closer to that than many other places. Knowing the risks and taking advantage of the resources which help you to make sensible decisions will significantly reduce your chances of something going wrong.


#17

I was able to scroll with the keyboard, but that's it. Another "UX expert" breaking the internet.


#18

I used Couchsurfing a lot in 2010 and 2011, while I was doing research for my book. I never had a bad experience or felt uncomfortable. (Though I was choosing people who actually had a spare bed for you to use, rather than a couch, and I wouldn't be surprised if that kind of filters out some of the sketchier arrangements.) I have a friend who hosts a whole bunch here in Minneapolis, and she's never talked about any bad experiences. I have another female friend who has used it to travel and has, in the course of those travels, had sex with a few hosts. But that wasn't anything she felt uncomfortable about.

Basically, I'm sure there are some creepers out there. Heck, I've read profiles where I was like, "LOL CREEPER". I am also certain that people have had negative experiences and felt pressured or unsafe, because, frankly, that happens in all kinds of situations. But based on my own experience and the experiences of people I know, I'm just not convinced this is a huge problem with Couchsurfing.

(All of this said, AirBnB has kind of replaced Couchsurfing for me at this point. Not because there's anything wrong with Couchsurfing. More just because most of my travel is work-related and after a day of being socially "on" for work I kind of like being able to come back to space where I can turn the switch off and relax, and I can't really do that if I'm staying with people I don't know and whom I'm not paying. Being entertaining and friendly and helpful is the payment, there, and that gets exhausting on work trips. Sometimes, it's definitely worth it. I'd do it again if I were doing reporting that needed to get the flavor of a town. But most of my recent trips, I've preferred to pay for my lodging in money rather than in social interaction.)


#20

The hitchhiking comparison is spot on I think. Overall it's quite safe and you get to meet a lot of interesting people, but then one hitchhiker is killed/raped and suddenly it's a national story and there's this weird perception that every hitchhikers is going to end up a mangled corpse on the side of the road eventually. There's no story about the tens of thousands of uneventful trips made by hitchhikers every year.

It seems like they should be able to combat this perception more easily though. At least with couchsurfing there is a record of most successful encounters. They can say something like "for every 1,000 experiences, only 7 result in severe negative feedback, and less than 1 in criminal prosecution." The statistics are not hidden the way hitchhiking is.


#21

But the guy didnt do anything even remotely close to rape her. I kinda feel bad for him painted as a would-be rapist. Why did she even try it out if she was so fraking uncomfortable around strangers?


#22

Not the worst article ever in terms of describing a slightly scary experience, but quite a misleading headline when the answer is "Yep, the first one, brave social experiment all the way"