How to stay safe when using online dating
What are the risks?
Being abducted or becoming the victim of a serial killer are probably at the extreme end of the risk spectrum, but these things have happened. Being cat-fished seems to be fairly common, and incidences of fraud, robbery, and assault happen too regularly to be ignored.
What steps can you take to stay safe when using online dating?
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 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.
Ask some questions
There’s been some reports in the media recently about guys who have been under the age of consent using dating apps to explore their sexuality.
If you think there’s any question that the guy that you’re meeting up with might have over-stated his age and might actually be under the age of consent where you are, it’s a smart move to ask to see some ID.
If he doesn’t want to show you his ID, you’ve probably got a problem and need to walk away.
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.
Case study: Over 190 men were victims of the UK’s most prolific rapist
Following his conviction at trial, police have now released details of the UK’s most prolific rapist and the shocking extent of the sexual assaults he perpetrated against unsuspecting men.
Reynhard Sinaga has been convicted of 159 sex offences and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in jail. While the convictions relate to 48 separate victims, police believe that as many as 190 men may have been targeted by the 36-year-old post-graduate student.
The offences took place in Manchester – one of the UK’s largest cities. According to evidence presented at the trial, Sinaga waited for men outside nightclubs, lured them back to his flat – with the offer of somewhere to have a drink or call a taxi – and then drugged and assaulted them while they were unconscious. When the victims woke up, many of them had no memory of what had happened. Sinaga filmed the attacks.
Sinaga carried out his attacks over several years. He was caught in June 2017 when one victim, who regained consciousness while being assaulted, fought Sinaga off and called the police.
“His extreme sense of sexual entitlement almost defies belief and he would no doubt still be adding to his staggering tally had he not been caught…” said Ian Rushton, from the Crown Prosecution Service – speaking to the BBC. Rushton went on to add that he thought that Sinaga took “a particular pleasure in preying on heterosexual men”.
When officers seized Sinaga’s phone they found he had filmed each of his attacks – amounting to hundreds of hours of footage. The discovery led to the launch of the largest rape inquiry in British history.
Sinaga denied the charges, claiming that all the sexual activity was consensual and that each man had agreed to being filmed while pretending to be asleep.
Sinaga’s trials took place across 18 months at Manchester Crown Court, resulting in unanimous guilty verdicts on all charges.
“We suspect he’s offended over a period of 10 years…” explained Assistant Chief Constable Mabbs Hussain. “The information and evidence we are going from is largely from trophies that he’s collected from the victims of his crimes.”
Investigators traced dozens of victims from the videos using clues found in Sinaga’s Manchester flat, such as stolen phones, ID cards and watches. Detectives say they have been unable to identify 70 victims.