Should Accused Sex Offenders Be Allowed to Use Dating Apps?

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The ABC’s Background Briefing recently aired a story about the use of dating apps by sexual offenders.

It described a case whereby a man used the dating app Tinder to lure victims before sexually assaulting them.

The spiel on the program’s Podcast reads:

“Glenn Hartland is a serial rapist who lured four Melbourne women on Tinder.

His victims say he continued to use dating apps while on bail.

How did the police, the court, and the company behind Tinder allow this to happen?”

The 44 year old man was sentenced last year to 14 years and nine months in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of rape and one count of sexual assault against women he met on Tinder.

The subject of monitoring and controlling alleged and convicted sexual offenders is an emotive one – with those in favour of strict controls asserting that anything that society must take steps to reduce the risk of offending, while those against arguing that people who are merely accused should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that those who have ‘served their time’ should be allowed to ‘get on with their lives’ free from state control. They argue that imposing such controls does little or nothing to prevent reoffending, but can in fact further stigmatise and alienate them from society, potentially increasing the risk of offending.

Putting that heated debate aside, this article looks at the legal mechanisms which are currently in place in New South Wales to reduce the risk of offending.

Following Charge

Once a person has been charged with a sexual offence, they will either be granted bail (released) or remanded in custody (kept behind bars).

Bail is the conditional release of an accused person while they are waiting for their matter to come before a court.

Bail can be unconditional or conditional. Unconditional bail requires a person to attend court on the next occasion and reside at a particular location.

Conditional bail can attract a range of conduct requirements requiring the person to do or refrain from doing something. Such requirements can including depositing a security (money or property), reporting to a police station on specified days, surrendering a passport, not entering a specific area or place, not contacting or associating with certain persons and so on.

Conduct requirements may also regulate the use of computers and the internet. So, for example, the court can impose a conduct requirement to the effect that a person is not to use a computer or phone at all, or that they are not to use the internet, or even that they are not to use dating sites.

Indeed,  a bail condition in the prosecution of Gable Tostee – who was charged with murdering his Tinder date Warriena Wright – was that he not use Tinder.

A jury ultimately found Mr Tostee not guilty.

After Conviction

If a person is convicted of a sexual offence, they may be given any one of a range of penalties including an Intensive Correction Order (ICO) or a full time custodial sentence – which is prison time.

ICOs can come with a range of conditions – including home detention, electronic monitoring, curfew and community service work – and the law provides that ‘[a]court may at the time of sentencing impose any further conditions, as long as they are not inconsistent with the existing standard or additional conditions.’

So, there is scope for a sentencing court to impose conditions relating to the dating apps, provided they are consistent with existing ones.

Where a person is sentenced to full-time imprisonment, they will normally (provided the sentence is more than six months) be given a ‘non-parole period’ – which is the time they must spend behind bars before becoming eligible to apply for release on parole – followed by a parole period, which is the time they are supervised in the community.

The standard conditions of parole in New South Wales are:

  • To be of good behaviour for the duration of the parole period;
  • Not to commit any offence while on parole; and
  • To adapt to normal, lawful community life.

Additional conditions can be imposed, including those which regulate the use of computers and the internet.

Sex Offender Registry

The ABC’s Background Briefing story asked whether private companies such as the dating app Tinder could screen users via sex offender registries.

However, unlike some part of the United States, sex offender registers in Australia are primarily used to assist law enforcement in monitoring child sex offenders rather than as a publicly accessible register.

Individuals that are placed on Australian child sex offender registries must comply with very strict conditions or risk being charged with an offence.

In New South Wales, those listed on the register must regularly report to the police and provide detailed information about their activities, internet access and use of communication devices.

High-risk sex offenders may be supervised or even GPS monitored.

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Jarryd Bartle

Jarryd Bartle is an Associate Lecturer in Criminology and Justice Studies at RMIT University and a consultant for the Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative, which investigates claims of wrongful conviction and advocates for systemic reform to protect against miscarriages of justice.
Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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