The overnight guest hosting site Couchsurfing is under fire after a media investigation revealed that an Italian policeman allegedly used it to invite women to his apartment and sexually assault them.
The man has since been charged with sexual assault by Italian authorities and is awaiting trial.
The investigation, carried out by two journalists of the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI), was published today on The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, and the Italian magazine L’Espresso.
The reporters were able to get in touch with 16 women who say they were abused by Dino Maglio, a 35-year-old officer from Padua, Italy.
Their tales all contain the same details: Maglio contacted them on Couchsurfing, a website where people offer to host travellers in their own homes, when they were travelling to Italy.
After a couple of days of sightseeing in Padua, Maglio would offer his victims some drinks, which the IRPI claims he drugged. As the victims lost consciousness, he would allegedly sexually assault them.
The attacks started in 2013, the IRP claims, when Maglio hosted an American girl. A year later, the mother of a 16-year-old Australian girl reported Maglio to police in Venice, claiming she found her daughter naked and unconscious in the man’s bed. That time Maglio admitted having had sex with the minor, but claimed the sex was consensual, IRPI says.
Before that case few women dared to speak up. Maglio threatened to use his influence as a police officer to cause trouble to those who wrote bad reviews of him on Couchsurfing, IRPI says. A Hong Kong woman who contacted him on Facebook was told that he could put her name on a travel ban list if she didn’t cancel a bad review.
Couchsurfing CEO Jennifer Billock told the Guardian that users’ safety was a top priority for the website but refused to go into details about its security procedures.
Maglio, who has been dismissed from active duty, is currently in a military prison and his trial is set to commence on March 17. Prosecutors accuse him of rape, with the aggravating factors of drugging his victims and abusing his position as a host.