Striking up a romance through a dating site or app is a well-established method of meeting people in 2018. It’s also increasingly risky when it comes to rape. Rapes in Minneapolis increased by approximately 25 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. A leading contributing factor is related to online dating. As the digital age progresses, more and more people are registering with online dating sites. But the increased number of rapes indicates that you need to keep your wits about you when meeting strangers.
Online services are an easy, convenient and relatively safe way of forming a relationship, but the rapport you can build so rapidly through texts and email also has a dark side because online services also are producing a “new type of sexual offender.” These offenders are less likely to already have a criminal record than most stranger rapists. They exploit their access to potential victims and establish trust before meeting. Attacks mostly were committed during the first face-to-face meetings after contact was made through dating sites or apps. The majority of victims were female. Online dating services have been around since the early days of the Web, with major paid sites like Match.com emerging in 1995 and eHarmony in 2000. More recently, casual dating hook-up apps like Tinder and Grindr emerged.
Online relationships tend to progress more quickly than those offline; emotional intimacy often leads to people feeling that they are at a more advanced stage of a relationship by the time they meet in real life. In more than half of online-connected date rapes recorded between 2003 and 2015, communications of a sexual nature preceded a real-life meeting. In spite of the safety warnings issued by dating services, police and rape-prevention groups, many people choose not to have their first meeting in a public place. The date-rape statistics show that in most cases, the victim and offender started their date at a private residence and that a large percentage of the rapes were committed at a private residence.
Law enforcement agencies are also concerned that the number of assaults reported aren’t actually a true reflection of the number of crimes that have taken place. A survey conducted in 2015 showed that rape is still chronically underreported, and crime statistics generally accepted represent only small percent of the real figure. Law enforcement and organizations that work with sexual assaults victims want to change this.
A victim is never at fault, and a victim should never doubt that. Sexual assault is a crime and victims should feel confident reporting it to the police.
Guidelines for staying safe during online dating are available from the nonprofit Get Safe Online (getsafeonline.org).