'Vultures' swoop on couch culture

'Vultures' swoop on couch culture

SINGAPORE - At first, the friendly Italian seemed genuinely curious about Singaporean culture. But when he began to get physically closer, Chloe realised that learning about other cultures was not on his mind.

The 26-year-old Singaporean, who asked that we not publish her name, was holidaying in the Italian city of Pisa with a female friend and decided to find a local host on the couchsurfing.org website.

Chloe, who works in the education industry, wanted to better understand the local culture and get an insight into a festival that was going on.

The site, popular among young Singaporeans, connects travellers with people to meet with, and even to stay with in their homes.

Chloe and her friend met a fellow couchsurfer at a cafe.

The couchsurfer had good references and reviews and things seemed friendly enough, so when her friend had to return to their hotel to get something, Chloe was comfortable enough to stay with their host.

They were watching the festival from a bridge when he started moving closer to her.

"His face came really close to mine and he moved his whole body towards me," Chloe recalled.

"His legs started touching mine. I was very uncomfortable, but he didn't seem to read my body language," she said.

Her host continued this for at least another 10 minutes.

We tried to contact Chloe's host for his side of the story, but he did not respond.

Her story is not unique and more people are putting up warnings that the site is developing a sub-culture of sexsurfing.

For example, a travel and lifestyle website, Matador Network, published an article in April titled "Using Couchsurfing to hook up: The unspoken culture of Sexsurfing".

Topless Shots

Chloe has had other questionable experiences with couchsurfing and one of them took place when she was looking for a local to meet up with in Venice.

She said: "A guy replied saying he loved Asian culture and would love to meet up with me. But then he started sending me photos of himself topless and in his swimming trunks. He also asked me for photos of myself."

She blocked the user and reported him to the couchsurfing safety team.

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