There is no doubt about it; we live in a digital age. With more than 8,000 dating apps worldwide, men, women, non-binary, and trans individuals are hoping to find love in the clouds. Almost 50 million people in the U.S. have tried online dating at some point. However, there are some serious considerations with this electronic form of dating’s safety. With a number that large, even a small percentage of users classified as predators represents a significant number and danger to the online dating community at large.
For a better understanding of the scope of the industry, Dating News.com has compiled the following statistics to show just how prevalent online dating has become in our society: (Matthews 27 Online Dating Statistics & What They Mean for the Future of Dating)
Furthermore, BackgroundChecks.org’s research into the most dangerous and safest states for online dating indicated Alaska is the most dangerous, while Vermont is the safest. Here in Illinois, we are just about in the middle- ranked at 34, reporting 46 per 100,000 online sexual assaults in 2018. (The Most Dangerous States for Online Dating)
Online dating apps facilitate thousands of crimes annually- everything from thefts and scams (to the tune of $201 million in 2019) to abductions, rapes, and murders. (What You Need to Know About Romance Scams) So how are these companies keeping their subscribers safe? The simple answer is – they are not.
Match Group is the largest company in the online dating game, owning 25% of the overall industry. They boast over 9.983 million members across more than forty different sites worldwide, including Tinder, Plenty of Fish, OkCupid, and Hinge, and have $2.1 billion in reported revenue in May of 2020. (Match Group Business Overview May 2020). Even though Match Group claims the safety of their subscribers is a top priority, the company said it would be too cost-prohibitive to do complete background checks on all of them. Instead, the company cites the following safety tools used on their platforms. It is important to note that these are reactive measures, not proactive, kicking in if a problem is detected:
(Our Commitment to Safety.” Match Group)
Match Group has also partnered with Noonlight, a security app that allows users to trigger an alarm to summon help manually or through another paired smart device, with its Tinder platform. There are plans to expand this service to its other apps within the following year.
In December of 2019, Pro Publica, in conjunction with Columbia Journalism Investigations and Buzz Feed, looked at over 150 sexual assaults involving dating apps over the past ten years. While Match.com does screen for sex offenders on its site, it does not screen all profiles. On its free apps such as Plenty of Fish or OKCupid, Match Group does not screen for offenders at all. According to a Match spokesperson statement, “the company cannot implement a uniform screening protocol because it doesn’t collect enough information from its free users — and some paid subscribers — even when they pay for premium features.” (Cousins et al. Tinder Lets Known Sex Offenders Use the App. It’s Not the Only One) Ultimately, the investigation concluded that federal guidelines and mandated background screenings are needed to keep the public safe.
In the event you need to report another subscriber, it can be challenging. Most apps allow you to file a report within the app itself. However, the in-app approach may not work if you have already blocked the subscriber or the subscriber has blocked you. Pro Publica has done extensive research into online dating sexual violence and found if you cannot file a report through an app, most companies will allow you to submit one through an email or an online form. You will need some information, though, that you may not have, such as
(Cousins and Edwards How to Report a Sexual Assault to a Dating App)
If a survivor successfully makes a report, it still may not do any good. Survivors of assaults have shared stories about being matched up with repeat sexual offenders and not having their accounts taken seriously or, in some cases, not even receiving a response. Even employees at the online dating companies admit they don’t have the training to deal with assault reports appropriately. Many of the companies lack consistent policy and procedures for issues dealing with sexual violence, once again leaving it up to the employees to make it up as they go.
So how can online dating be made safer for everyone involved? Since the dating apps have not regulated themselves effectively, Propublica’s recommendation of federal mandates seems appropriate. Background checks should be mandatory for anyone signing up for a dating site. Applicants’ profiles should not be published until they have successfully passed their background checks with an established appeals process for those who do not pass the background check. However, anyone who fails the background check should be banned from the dating site. A database of banned individuals should also be established to make it easier for companies to determine who should not be allowed on their sites.
A consistent reporting protocol needs to be agreed upon by the dating apps. Even apps owned by the same parent company may have vastly different reporting procedures making it hard for users to know what information they need to file a report or even where to go to do it. The reporting link should be clearly placed so users can access it easily, and reports must be responded to within 24 hours.
Online Dating companies should also employ trauma-based counselors to work with users reporting sexual assaults. Currently, these companies only use customer service representatives or “moderators” in the vernacular, who have strict quotas they need to follow. That means anyone reporting an assault needs to do so in four minutes – or less.
Appropriately trained moderators who can spend time with survivors are beneficial to both parties. Survivors are not re-traumatized in the reporting process, which aids in their healing. The companies can get better information from these reports, helping them remove predators from their sites, making them safer for everyone.
Online dating companies will say these basic steps to ensure the safety of their subscribers are too costly. There is no doubt hiring enough moderators, training them, and doing the millions of background checks for users comes at a hefty price tag. However, Match Group reported earnings of $2.4 billion in 2020. They have the money.
Instead, online apps list safety protocols they recommend their users follow. These precautions include:
While not bad advice, it places the burden on potential victims to prevent their own victimization and is not true primary prevention. Sexual violence is never the fault of the survivor, regardless of what they may or may not have done.
Make no doubt about it; predators are and will continue to be on dating apps. If you choose to wade into those waters, make sure you fully understand the risks.
Alaimo, Kara. “Opinion: Dating Apps Need to Start Doing Background Checks on Users to Help Stop Sexual Assaults.” CNN, Cable News Network, 27 Jan. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/01/27/perspectives/sexual-assault-apps-tech/index.html.
Brian Edwards, Elizabeth Naismith Picciani. “Addressing Rape in Four Minutes or Less: Dating App Reps Left Unprepared to Respond to Assault Victims.” ProPublica, 17 May 2021, https://www.propublica.org/article/addressing-rape-in-four-minutes-or-less-dating-app-reps-left-unprepared-to-respond-to-assault-victims.
Clement, J. “U.S. Negative Online Dating App or Service Experiences by Gender, 2019.” Statista, 10 Feb. 2020, www.statista.com/statistics/809605/us-users-negative-online-dating-app-or-service-experience-gender/.
Cousins, Keith Cousins, and Elizabeth Naismith Picciani, et al. “Tinder Lets Known Sex Offenders Use the App. It’s Not the Only One.” ProPublica, 2 Dec. 2019, www.propublica.org/article/tinder-lets-known-sex-offenders-use-the-app-its-not-the-only-one.
Cousins, Keith, and Brian Edwards. “How to Report a Sexual Assault to a Dating App.” ProPublica, Columbia Journalism Investigations, 9 Mar. 2020, www.propublica.org/article/how-to-report-a-sexual-assault-to-a-dating-app.
“Match Group Business Overview May 2020.” Match Group, May 2020, s22.q4cdn.com/279430125/files/doc_downloads/2020/05/Match-Group-Business-Overview-May-2020.pdf.
Matthews, Hayley. “27 Online Dating Statistics & What They Mean for the Future of Dating.” DatingNews.com, DatingNews.com, 15 June 2018, www.datingnews.com/industry-trends/online-dating-statistics-what-they-mean-for-future/.
“The Most Dangerous States for Online Dating.” Background Checks.org, 2019, backgroundchecks.org/the-most-dangerous-states-for-online-dating.html.
“Our Commitment to Safety.” Match Group, 2020, www.mtch.com/safety/.
“What You Need to Know About Romance Scams.” Consumer Information, 22 Apr. 2020, www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-you-need-know-about-romance-scams#:~:text=In%202019%2C%20people%20reported%20losing%20%24201%20million%20to,to%20any%20other%20fraud%20reported%20to%20the%20FTC.