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The online environment could also lull users into thinking they know someone, and therefore making themselves vulnerable.
To date, much of the research on online dating has been conducted by dating companies themselves.
All the same, the NCA noted that the incidents had a lot in common.
Most notably, 72% were carried out in the home of either the victim or the perpetrator, and 41% of the dates that led to assaults started at home, rather than moving there after an initial meeting somewhere else.
Nevertheless, while app-related assaults were still rare, they were rising fast enough for the NCA to flag the emergence of “a new type of sexual offender.” Usually a man, he’s less likely than other sexual offenders to have committed any kind of crime before, but instead exploits the “ease of access and arm-chair approach” to meeting people that dating sites enable.
Of course, sexual assaults related to online dating may be on the rise just because online dating itself is on the rise.
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.
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.
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?
In the absence of hard data, it’s anecdotes that shape the conversation about online dating safety.
In 2016 Stephen Port was convicted in the UK of killing four young men he met on the gay dating app Grindr.
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If the US and UK are experiencing the same trends, then online dating is indeed becoming more dangerous.