Online dating and meeting in public
The trouble is that statistics on crimes linked to online dating are sparse.
In 2016, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) released findings on data from police forces around the country. Not all the forces collect data specific to dating apps.
Often on multiple apps at once, users can swipe through dozens of profiles every minute and plan multiple dates, whether in hopes of a love match or a hook-up.
Decisions to meet arise from limited information: A convenient location; a sultry glance captured in pixels; a mutual interest in “banter.” In 2014, Tinder users were spending as long as 90 minutes a day on the site.
John Leech thinks the situation is new, and dangerous.
A local council member in Manchester, in the north of England, Leech this year launched a campaign to make online dating companies commit to keeping their users safer.
But Leech wants other protections, like giving users alerts about potential risks before they ever begin chatting with strangers.
Is this scaremongering, or is online dating truly putting users in danger?
To date, much of the research on online dating has been conducted by dating companies themselves.
But fake profiles abound, sexual predators use the sites, and some common online dating behavior—like meeting alone after scant acquaintance, sharing personal information, and using geolocation—puts users at risk.
Dating companies are being pushed to better protect users, but some seem reluctant to do more— or even to talk about whether there’s a problem.
That’s despite dating advice that stresses the importance of meeting new people in public. A 2016 study of 666 students in Hong Kong found that about half used dating apps, and those who did were twice as likely as non-users to suffer “sexual abuse” of some kind (defined on a scale that included, for example, being coerced into unprotected sex, and rape).
The study didn’t prove that apps led to abuse, the authors wrote, but they found the association “alarming.” They hypothesized that app users might expose themselves more to people who are sexually coercive.
However, it puts most of that down to increased reporting and better recording by the police.