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Cruising and Culpability

One of the most talked about stories of the past week was the death of New York reporter George Weber. The journalist’s body was discovered March 22, a day before his 48th birthday, after failing to appear at work. His ankles were bound and he had been stabbed 50 times.

The police investigation quickly centered on 16 year old John Katehis, who has been charged with second degree murder and weapons possession. When he was arrested, he was carrying a dagger and reportedly confessed to the crime, although he entered a “not guilty” plea when arraigned on March 25.

According to published reports, Weber and Katehis met after Weber posted an ad on Craigslist looking for a hook-up with rough sex. After making initial contact, they agreed on a $60 payment for Katehis. At Weber’s home, cocaine and vodka were introduced into the mix, and Katehis claims he “blanked out” during the attack.

Later in the week, as the story garnered more attention, Katehis’s profiles on Myspace and Xtube were published, which pictured him with various knives and revealed his interest in violence. In his writings he claims to be an anarchist, sadomasochist, and a Satanist, and identifies as heterosexual. As I write this column, it is believed he answered Weber’s ad because he saw it as a way to make easy money and he was interested in the risky activities Weber was requesting.

This story has received heavy coverage in New York, as expected, but I think gay media across the country has focused on this story because it raises several issues that hit home for many in the LGBT community, starting with the prevalence and dangers of hooking up online.

Sites such as Craigslist, Manhunt, Adam4Adam, and Facebook owe a great deal of their popularity to the fact that they make finding random and anonymous sex very simple. I know very few guys, including myself, who have not used these sites at one time or another.

It’s not just web sites that are engaged in this activity. There is a new application for the iPhone aimed at gay men called Grindr that uses GPS to show available guys in your area. I suspect many people will be buying an iPhone just for this app.

The problem is that caution is too often thrown to the wind in the hunt for instant action. People make arrangements without having the most minimal of information about individuals other than their alleged stats. Confirming one’s identity and their health status are usually not high priorities when you’re “looking for now.”

Beyond the health issues, there are concerns with physical safety. Weber’s situation made me reflect on the times I’ve opened my home without really knowing who I was getting involved with, or the stories of friends who were later stalked or otherwise victimized by their hook-up. I’ve also heard of people who cruise online, get someone’s contact information, then use Google maps to scout their neighborhood and break into their home.

Do hook-up sites have any responsibility to protect their users? Should they save users from themselves? It’s unlikely Weber would have been able to meet a 16 year old had Craigslist required people to be an adult in order to access the personals. The owners of these websites seem to have adopted a “play at your own risk” attitude of willful ignorance that reminds me of bathhouses in the 1980s. Some would say that the bathhouse was safe by comparison to online cruising, because of its centralized location, staff/security, ability to observe potential playmates, and knowledge that everyone was there for the same thing. It’s an interesting comparison to think about.

You may also remember that the risk of cruisy sex was covered in the movies Looking For Mr. Goodbar and Cruising, which go back to the disco era. Whether it’s the bar, online, sex party, or street trade, people have always found a way to arrange and engage in no-strings sex.

Since people are not going to stop having sex in the foreseeable future, all I can suggest is to please remember to play safe and take precautions. Try to get as much contact information on potential partners as you can, meet in a public place, and let a friend know of your plans so they can check on you. Sex can be fun, enlightening, and even a bit dangerous, but it’s not worth dying for.

From “Blackout” for 3/30/09 by Anthony Rucker


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