Dating apps have provided a great way for people to connect, but along with the positives, the downside to dating apps still looms large - users aren't necessarily safe when they are meeting new people.
Dating app users can become easy targets for sexually predatory behavior. The question of security in online dating has once again entered the news headlines, thanks to the conviction of Stephen Port, a UK man who was accused and found guilty of killing four men he met through gay dating apps.
Port met his victims by catfishing them through various dating apps including Grindr, posting fake profiles and avoiding using any real details about himself, encouraging them to meet in person before drugging their drinks.
While this is a scary scenario, online dating sites have been quick to state that they can’t control or easily verify the information all of their users provide, and rely on people to report suspicious behavior. However, this is often after the fact, which doesn't help potential victims. Online dating sites might play a bigger role in avoiding these types of risks for their users from the beginning.
According to an article in the BBC, Chief Constable Jane Sawyers, police lead for LGBT issues, said apps should provide safety messages. She said that while apps had a role in reporting people to the police after potential crimes had taken place, "they could do more to prevent the offences in the first place".
The number of people who reported being raped on a first date with someone they met on a dating app increased six-fold between 2009 and 2014 to 184 cases a year in the UK alone, according to the National Crime Agency. And in the first six months of 2016, the UK Metropolitan Police received 187 crime reports linked to Tinder and gay dating app Grindr.
Despite these crime statistics, there is the added concern that crimes aren’t as widely reported by people who meet through gay dating apps, because of the stigma associated with them. Sawyers is trying to encourage people to report crimes regardless of their sexual orientation.
Safety is an important part of dating, and whether or not you meet someone online, you should always take precautions before agreeing to meet. Not everyone posts an accurate profile, so don’t rely on the profile, your text messages back and forth, or even a phone call to provide all the information you need to know about someone. Be safe, first and foremost.
Following are some tips to keep in mind:
- Always agree to meet in a public place that is familiar to you.
- Let a friend or relative know where you are, and when you expect to be home.
- If you feel unsafe at a bar, go to the bar and “ask for Angela,” which is a code that lets them know you need help.
- Don’t leave your drink unattended while you go to the restroom.
- Realize that it is okay to do some online research prior to your date, to make sure profile information checks out.
- Most importantly, trust your gut. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to leave the situation.