How to stay safe when using online dating
Today in London, a man has been convicted of murdering Eric Michels.
Michels was 54 at the time of his death. He’d been out at a number of gay bars in Soho, before connecting with a man on a dating app. Michels took the man back to his home in south-west London.
The prosecution established that Michels was given GHB by the man, with the intention of knocking him unconscious so that they could rob him. Michels died from an overdose of the drug.
Police investigating the case found that the death of Michels was part of an ongoing campaign by the killer and an accomplice during which they targeted at least 12 men over a 19-month period.
It’s yet another example of the risks that we’re navigating in our search for intimacy.
Becoming the victim of a serial killer is probably at the extreme end of the risk spectrum, but it has happened. Being cat-fished seems to be fairly common, but incidences of fraud, robbery, and assault happen too regularly to be ignored.
Whatever you do in life involves some element of risk, but it makes sense to exercise a bit of caution and, where possible, mitigate the known risks.
Here’s some tips on how to get the best out of online dating without putting your personal safety at risk.
Look for warning flags
If you’re chatting with someone online and navigating the early stages of a meeting or a hook-up, be on the look-out for anything that might make you extra cautious. Are they being aggressive, or pushy? Are they suggesting something that you don’t feel comfortable with? How do they respond to your suggestions?
Don’t let your libido cloud your judgement – if something doesn’t feel right, you need to exercise caution.
Have your first meeting in a public place
There’s nothing wrong with suggesting that you meet for the first time in a public place. Even if you’re pretty sure that you’re going back to his place for a quick hook-up, it makes sense that you meet up initially in a bar or somewhere public just to ensure that you’ve got an easy out if something doesn’t feel right.
Warning signs might include if he doesn’t match the photos that he’d sent you, or if he seems weirdly nervous or anxious. A one-off, random hook-up is not worth putting yourself in a vulnerable position.
Let your friends know
You could easily frame it as a #HumbleBrag, but if you’re meeting up with someone new it’s common sense to let someone know what you’re doing.
You don’t have to share all the specifics if you don’t want to, but a quick text to let someone know that you’re heading out to meet a guy is a smart idea.
Try and give the friend you’re notifying any relevant information about the guy that you’re meeting. You may not know his name, but you do know which app you met him on, where you’re meeting him, and when you expect to be checking back in with your friend to confirm that everything went okay.
Don’t be afraid to walk away
You’re under no obligation to meet up with anyone that you’ve been chatting with online. If they’re trying to bully you into anything, just end the conversation. If you get there and things feel a bit weird, simply make your excuses and leave. There’s no shame in that, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about – it’s a smart move.
When you’re horny and you’re keen for some action, it’s easy to make choices that are perhaps more risky than you’d normally make. Try and take things slowly. Try and avoid any drugs or alcohol that might cloud your judgement or ability to consent. If you’re unsure about something, take a time-out and go to the bathroom to text or call a friend.
You don’t owe an anonymous hook-up anything. No one is going to think less of you for opting out of a hook-up if it doesn’t feel right. Put your safety first.
Report any problems
There might be reasons why you don’t want to get the police involved if you’ve had a hook-up that’s gone wrong. But if you can, it’s a good idea to file a report with the police. If you’ve been robbed, if you’ve been assaulted, if you met up with someone and they set off alarm bells – filing a complaint with the police not only empowers you to take control of that situation but could potentially help other people who might also be potential victims.
Some of the most high profile crimes against queer guys using hook-up apps involve a repeated pattern of behaviour – if someone has tried to take advantage of you, they’ll have done it before and they’ll be looking to do it again.