ROME: An Italian policeman who posed as an amiable host on the Couchsurfing website has been charged with drugging and raping a 16 year old Australian and may have sexually assaulted up to 15 other women, judicial sources said Friday.
Dino Maglio, 35, will go on trial in Padua near Venice from March 17 on charges of raping a minor with the aggravating circumstance of having administered a narcotic without her knowledge, prosecutors in the northern city said.
The case is set to reignite safety concerns surrounding Couchsurfing, a social networking site that puts travelers in touch with hosts who are willing to put them up and show them around their hometowns for free.
The site’s declared aim is “a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection”.
But its model has been criticized because of previous incidents of travelers being attacked by hosts they know nothing about.
Prosecutors investigating the case of the Australian 16 year old are also now considering possible further charges arising from a suspected attack after Maglio was first charged.
They are also looking at statements about similar incidents made by 14 women from seven countries to the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI).
The network of freelance reporters, which began looking into Maglio’s activities after being approached by one of the women who says she was assaulted by him, handed an extensive dossier to prosecutors last month.
“Three of the women all Czech nationals have so far filed rape charges and we are looking at the evidence presented by the other women,” a judicial source told AFP.
An American student, who also says she was raped, made a statement to police in London following her return to the UK, where she was resident.
In an email reaction to the revelations, Couchsurfing chairwoman Jennifer Billock said “these horrific crimes hit close to home on a deeply personal level for everyone” in the company.
“We stand in solidarity with these women and with all women everywhere who have been the victims of violent crimes, and we applaud their courage and tenacity in pursuing justice.”