More than a year after a young woman was repeatedly raped by her CouchSurfing host, the website is still ignoring women's and LGBTQ people's complaints of sexual harassment and abuse while using its service.
CouchSurfing denies responsibility for the actions of their users with the pat response that victims should more vigorously vet potential hosts and report illegal behavior to the proper authorities in the country in which they're traveling. The onus for safety is on the victim, not CouchSurfing. But this manner of thinking ignores the way the system itself facilitates illegal behavior, or at least, does little to prevent CouchSurfing from being used for nefarious purposes.
Tell CouchSurfing that you think increased safety measures should be made a priority immediately, and that sexual predators should not be allowed to use the site as a way to seek out their next victims.
1) Require all users to verify their identity and location with a mandatory credit card transaction, such as a $1 “service charge” to use CouchSurfing.
2) Require a criminal background check of all users, with membership denied for sex offenders.
3) Require all users to fully fill out their profile before gaining the ability to contact other already-verified CS users.
4) Create a team of experts who regularly and thoroughly screen CS user profiles and CS Groups for red flags of sexual misconduct. This team should work with law enforcement officials to prevent CS from being a medium through which sexual predators lure potential victims into their homes.
5) Mandate an evaluation for all completed CS traveler/host matches. This should include a questionnaire filled out by both parties about the host’s and guest’s behavior. CS administrators will then use the questionnaire to determine whether a user is a safety risk to other users and if a user should be banned from CouchSurfing.
6) Allow negative references to be posted as “Anonymous” to the public to protect the privacy of victims of sexual harassment and abuse who deserve 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 other users.)
7) Create a team to investigate claims of sexual misconduct, and temporarily suspend the profile of any user against whom a claim of sexual misconduct has been made until an investigation can be completed.
8) Hire a staff person to handle all emergency safety issues (e.g., rape, sexual harassment) within 24 hours of CS being notified about them. This includes helping the victim to move to a safe location, contacting local law enforcement, and navigating local legal systems. (This would require legal advisers in all major regions and prior research on legal systems in these regions.)
These procedures will effectively work in tandem with each other to make CouchSurfing a safer, more enjoyable experience for all users. It is irresponsible for you NOT to implement them.