The Dangers of Online Dating

His hand rested on her cheek as she leaned in, expecting a kiss. The next thing Sarah knew, his hands had clamped around her neck, both his thumbs pressing deep into her throat, making it impossible for her to breathe. As she clawed at the air, trying to push him away, he raised one hand and slapped her across the face, over and over again.

Perhaps it is due to the lack of human interaction in the digital age, but many young people have moved past the idea of finding love the traditional way. Online applications such as Tinder, Gridr and many more have made it accessible for millions to match with unknown strangers online. Although this may come as a thrilling new experience for many, it can be extremely dangerous and lead to life-threatening situations.

In the case of Sarah, her date literally tried to kill her. She matched with his profile in the summer of 2016 and had been speaking to him for a few months before she finally decided to let him meet her in person.

“He was definitely cocky, a little bit arrogant, sarcastic and one hundred per cent my type. The red flags showed up early on in knowing him, he was quite verbally aggressive and constantly doing illegal things. Honestly, I just saw him as kind of ballsy and in a way… charming I suppose,” she says.

When he began to choke her, she immediately fought back. She recalls the incident with emotion: “I was only able to get him off after adjusting my leg and kneeing him as hard as I could. His hands immediately went to protect himself and at that point I grabbed my phone, got across the room, and told him if he didn’t get out I would call the police.”

This is not the first time that Sarah has had a negative experience with someone she met online. In fact, she briefly mentions that she met someone through Tinder that sexually assaulted her.

“All I have to say about the sexual assault is ladies and gents, keep your eyes on your drinks. I don’t care if you’re at a bar or at your best friend’s house party. Someone can put something in it if given the opportunity. You don’t want to wake up like I did with nothing on my lower half and zero memory of what occurred from the time you remember to the time you start forgetting.”

Sarah justifies not reporting the incidents to the police as she says, “I felt like it made me seem too weak and fragile. Honestly, I just didn’t like the idea of being seen as a victim. I was afraid of how people would view me, and hearing them say ‘well you should have stayed sober’ or ‘what were you wearing?’ There was no way I could go about it without somehow having it turned on myself, so I kept it quiet and never spoke to or saw him again.”

According to Statistics Canada, out of every 1,000 incidents of sexual assault, only 37 are reported in women. With men, this number is reduced significantly to 5 incidents per 1, 000 people.

“Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes…research has attributed this to a wide range of reasons, including the shame, guilt and stigma of sexual victimization,” says StatsCan.

Although Tinder refuses to comment on its reporting policies, its website lists some safety precautions for its users. The website includes a link where users can report individuals who violate its terms of use.

It also includes some tips for users meeting their dates for the first time, which include: “Tell your friends and family members of your plans, transport yourself to and from the meeting, stay sober…” Right underneath this information, the website lists the numbers of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Hotline, Planned Parenthood and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The overall implication seems to be that anyone who uses the app is responsible for the consequences of their experiences.  This is also understandable as the website lists that it has assisted in matching people more than 20 billion times. 

Stories such as Sarah’s are hardly uncommon in the world of online dating. Experiences such as these are extremely common for users of online applications. In fact, uncomfortable experiences have become so common that restaurants have begun to put up signs in the women’s washroom to instruct them on how to handle an uncomfortable first date.

The world of online dating is new and exciting for many people. However, it is almost impossible to determine someone’s personality behind a screen. It is easy to fall into a trap and believe when a date says they’re a rich doctor who loves long walks on the beach, when in reality they live in their mother’s basement and harass people online. It is virtually impossible to tell the difference behind a screen.