Last year, Victorian man Glen Hartland was sentenced to nearly 15 years in prison for sexually assaulting three women and indecently assaulting another. He pleaded guilty to the charges, after using dating app Tinder to lure his victims.
One of the women has since taken her own life. And if that isn’t tragic enough, just Google the subject.
Assaults during meetups arranged via Tinder have been alarmingly regular in recent years. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Police charged a man in Brisbane with 10 offences including rape, sexual assault, stupefying in order to commit an indictable offence, unlawful stalking, observations or recordings in breach of privacy and drug charges.
The investigation led to the man’s arrest after a complaint from a woman who believed her drink might have been spiked after a meeting at the man’s apartment. The pair had met on Tinder. Video footage from the man’s phone suggests that there could be other victims.
The dark side of Tinder
Tinder has been one of the fastest growing dating apps, changing the way people meet. It’s also one of the highest-earning, raking in nearly $2 billion a year.
And, amid the loneliness and isolation of COVID-19 lockdowns it has become more popular than ever before, with subscriptions climbing almost 20 percent in the year to June.
A recent survey conducted by Triple Js Hack programme had 400 responses — the majority of which said they had experienced sexual assault or harassment on a dating app.
231 of them had used Tinder, and of the 48 people who complained to Tinder about sexual offences, only 11 received a response.
Victoria’s Glen Hartland, who was dubbed the ‘Tinder Rapist’ continued to use the app even after he was charged by Police, setting up fake profiles, to continue attracting women.
Along with the company’s failure to act on complaints, there is also a very concerning feature on the app, the ‘unmatch’ function, which actually enables offenders to block their victims, deleting any trace of their communication. Essentially, if someone is assaulted after meeting on the app, then the perpetrator can effectively cover their own tracks.
Tinder has long been criticised for its passive approach, it is gaining a negative reputation for being unsafe, and for not doing enough to protect users. To that end, Tinder has announced some new safety features over the past several months, although it is unclear exactly how effective they’ll be.
New safety features
One is a photo verification feature that will allow users to verify images they upload to their profiles, in an effort to prevent catfishing.
“Does This Bother You?” is another new feature, which automatically detects offensive language in the app’s instant messaging service, and asks the user whether they’d like to report it. Tinder has also introduced a Safety Centre which provides resources and tools that users can implement to keep themselves safe on the app.
Being safe while using the app is one thing … and while these new measures are a step in the right direction towards acknowledging the potentially dangerous side of online dating, and perhaps even preventing harassment, can it stop the assaults?
The US version has added a panic button which alerts law enforcement to provide emergency assistance, but this is only available in the US and so far the company has not announced plans to introduce it worldwide despite the app operating in almost 200 countries.
The onus to keep safe remains largely on the users themselves. And while women are overwhelmingly the victims, men are also at risk, although less likely to report their experiences.
Keeping yourself safe while online dating
Access to social media and messaging can give us a false idea of how much we know about other people before we actually meet them.
The other issue, of course, is that people can present a carefully cultivated image on social media, so experts advise doing a little prior extra research on your date beyond what’s available on their Facebook or Instagram profile, perhaps by checking the validity of their workplace, or aiming to find any contacts you might have in common.
Experts also suggest setting up a few video chats before meeting face-to-face, and to always meet for the first time in a public place. Other warnings include being careful not to give out too much personal information until you know each other better, make sure a friend or family member knows the details of your date, be aware of drink and food spiking.