Royshawn Scarlett, 21, is a soft-spoken guy living in tiny Lake Wales, Florida. The town, population just 14,225 at the 2010 census, is not exactly known as a gay dating hub.
So Scarlett turned to social media, like so many other young LGBT people living in the suburbs across America. But after setting up a date recently with a guy who said his name was John via the friend-finder app Hi5, Scarlett was met by three armed men who laid him face-down on the concrete in a parking lot, held a gun to the back of his head, and robbed him. Scarlett lost his car, phone, and wallet that night—but his life was miraculously spared.
“When we got to the front [of the date location], there were two other guys there dressed in all black,” Scarlett told local Fox 13 News, which did not specify the date of the attack. “He made me get on the ground by the bushes face down with a gun on the back of my head.”
“I said, ‘don’t kill me. Lord, help me,'” recalled Scarlett, who spoke with reporters while sitting on his mom’s couch—tears running down Keisha Scurry’s face as she described nearly losing her son that night.
The Daily Dot reached out to Scarlett via Facebook but did not immediately receive a response.
According to investigators quoted in local media reports, the attack was one of four copycat incidents that occurred in the last month alone in the Bartow, Florida area. In each incident, a local man was catfished into a date and then met by armed robbers. One was badly beaten in the face with a baseball bat.
The string of violent attacks rocking this quiet Central Florida county is hardly unusual. In the last year, news reports have surfaced of similar gay-baiting incidents where people used dating apps and sites to lure LGBT men into romantic meetups that end with robbery, beatings, and even death.
In November, former New York Knicks NBA draft pick Michael Wright was found murdered after what police said was a Grindr date gone wrong. Wright’s death shocked the public, as well as friends and family who apparently did not realize he slept with other men. The murder hit the news just one month after a U.K. man was arrested for killing four men he met via Grindr on separate occasions.
In 2014, after a string of murders, beatings, and rapes linked to gay dating site meetups in Seattle and Philadelphia, Grindr told Vocativ the company provides police with data when requested.
As a company, we treat all reports of crime very seriously. We encourage anyone with information on any criminal incidents to reach out to the police. If we are contacted by the authorities about an investigation, we fully cooperate with their requests. Regarding the recent incidents you pointed out, our thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family and friends.
But Grindr wasn’t the only app used to gaybait victims: Adam4Adam led to a Philadelphia death, MeetMe.com was a Texas teen’s method of entrapping his prey, and in Russia, homophobic groups lured LGBT adults and teens into violent scenarios by catfishing them on Facebook.
Law enforcement in the U.K. just announced, as reported in a Jan. 11 Telegraph article, that crimes linked to dating apps there skyrocketed over the past couple of years. In all of 2013, 55 crimes relating to Grindr and Tinder were reported to police in England and Wales. Between Jan. and October 2015, the amount of Grindr and Tinder violence had gone up to 412 reported incidents.
In the U.S., law enforcement statistics on dating app violence are not yet available. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), which tracks violence against LGBT people through direct community reports to partner organizations rather than relying solely on law enforcement data, does not currently categorize its published statistics according to meetings arranged through dating apps or websites.
Many of the partner groups do already ask for info about apps when they perform intakes with victims. Emily Waters, NCAVP’s Research and Education Coordinator, told the Daily Dot in an email that the information will be included in data analysis in the future.
“Some of the member organizations of NCAVP are starting to look more closely at the use of dating apps and how they relate to violence against LGBTQ people,” said Waters.
But while information about violence initiated through apps is useful, it isn’t always easy to come by.
“As more and more LGBTQ people are using apps and sites to meet people and hook up online, tracking and analyzing this information will help us to better understand how to prevent violence,” Waters said, “But survivors are often reluctant to report this kind of violence because of the stigma related to using these apps.”
Photo via Phil Campbell/Flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman