U.K. sees rise in rapes reported after first dates from dating apps

It’s easy to feel comfort and safety within the confines of a text message, but newly released data in the U.K. shows a major increase in the number of first dates that originated online. At the beginning of the century, online dating was hardly a blip on our collective radar; however, as VICE reports, one in three U.K. relationships now begin online, opening up a whole new world of love but also of potential danger. 

The National Crime Agency, which “leads U.K. law enforcement’s fight against serious and organized crime,” released a report on Sunday called “Emerging new threat in online dating.” Researchers found “a six-fold increase in reports of online-dating related rape offenses over a 5-year period,” which includes the years 2009 to 2013. Upon closer look, it shows that reports of online dating-related rapes on first dates alone jumped from 33 in 2009 to 184 in 2014. Additionally, 85 percent of the victims were women and included people who used both paid and unpaid dating sites and apps.

The report points to this idea of faux-intimacy created in a pre-date conversation with a complete stranger as one of the possible explanations for the increase in rapes, though a number of possible explanations are still being explored. Per the report: 

“Behavioural experts say people often feel they are a good judge of character and think they would recognise a rapist when they see him. This analysis reminds us that sexual offenders come in many guises.”

A perhaps surprising piece of information from the report is that many of these offenders did not have prior records—so despite your best effort to try and tell if someone “looks dangerous,” it could be next to impossible to tell. It’s particularly worth noting that 49 percent of the accused first-date rapists in the report had a prior offense on their records.

Another element puts all of the data into even sharper focus. The Bureau of Justice Statistics in the United States has previously found that the majority of rapes and sexual assaults against women and girls are not reported. Reasons include a combination of shame, fear of being blamed, or fear of retribution. To this end, the NCA suggested that their data on reported rapes may be only 17.4 percent of the true figure.

Currently, the U.S. does not have similar statistics about reported rapes from online dating like those from the U.K. But according to data provided by the FBI, the first half of 2015 as compared to the first half of 2014 saw a general increase in the number of rapes.

“In 2013, the UCR [Uniform Crime Report] definition of rape was changed to ‘penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim,'” a FBI spokesperson told the Daily Dot via email. “The new definition updated the historical definition of rape which was ‘carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.'”

The spokesperson continued: 

“Effectively, the revised definition expands rape to include both male and female victims and offenders, and reflects the various forms of sexual penetration understood to be rape, especially nonconsenting acts of sodomy, and sexual assaults with objects.  Which, in turn, shows an increase in rape offenses.”

Early 2015 saw a total 1.1 percent increase in rape, according to the revised definition, and 9.6 percent increase using the legacy definition.

Despite a lack of statistics relating to first online dates and rape or sexual assault in the U.S., it’s a subject that continues to garner media attention and community response. For example, when nine sexual assaults were reported in September at Ohio University, campus police department released a statement warning students that two of the meetups were a result of a Tinder connection.

As OU Police Chief Andrew Powers wrote in the statement, “Not everyone who uses an app like Tinder is doing so for the same reason,” adding “sexual assault and rape culture are everyone’s problem.”

Recent reports also indicate that dating apps have particular concerns for members of the LGBT community. Royshawn Scarlett, a 21-year-old from Lake Wales, Florida was recently assaulted by three men and robbed when he thought he was meeting up with a man he met online. Even worse, back in November a former New York Knicks draft pick named Michael Wright was found murdered after a Grindr date gone bad.

The U.K.’s NCA suggests GetSafeOnline.org as a guide for how to best protect oneself from potential danger during a first online date:

1. Plan it. Say it. Do it.

It’s your date. Agree on what you both want from it before you meet up. Don’t feel pressured to meet before you’re ready or for any longer than you’re comfortable with – a short first date is fine.

2. Meet in public. Stay in public.

The safest plan is to meet somewhere public and stay somewhere public. Make your own way there and back and don’t feel pressured to go home with your date. If you feel ready to move to a private environment, make sure your expectations match your date’s.

3. Get to know the person, not the profile.

The way people interact online isn’t always the same face-to-face. Don’t be offended if your date is more guarded when meeting in person. or if things don’t progress as fast face-to-face.

4. Not going well? Make your excuses and leave.

Don’t feel bad about cutting a date short if you’re not keen. You don’t owe the other person anything, no matter how long you’ve been chatting or what’s been suggested.

5. If you’re raped or sexually assaulted on your date, help is available.

No matter what the circumstances, sexual activity against your will is a crime. Police and charities are here to help and support you.

“Our aim here is to make people aware of the potential danger, so they can be better prepared and make the choices that are right for them,” Sean Sutton, Head of the NCA’s Serious Crimes Analysis Section, commented in the U.K. report. “A rape victim is never at fault and we do not want the circumstances in which these assaults take place to cause any victim to doubt that. Sexual assault is a crime, full stop, and we want victims to feel confident reporting it to the police.”

H/T Vice News | Photo via Laszlo Ilyes/Flickr

Marisa Kabas

Marisa Kabas

Marisa Kabas is a lifestyle reporter and activist. Her work has been published by Fusion, Fast Company, and Today. She’s also served as an editorial campaigns director for Purpose PBC, a social movement incubator.