Following the conviction of Stephen Port last week, who killed a number of men after meeting them on dating apps including Grindr and Gaydar, Lincolnshire Reporter has looked into how safe dating apps actually are.
Stephen Port received a whole-life sentence on Friday, November 25, following the murder of four gay men, who he drugged and raped before dumping their bodies near his flat in east London.
Port had met these men on dating apps before luring them to their deaths.
The conviction of Stephen Port for the killings of young men he met on a number of dating apps, including Grindr and Gaydar highlighted the seriousness of using dating apps in an unsafe way.
According to data released by the National Crime Agency (NCA), dating apps are one of the main threats to the general public in terms of sexual violence.
Figures have shown that the number of allegations of rapes linked to dating apps have significantly risen over the last five years.
The NCA has said that around 184 people had reported being raped by someone they had met via a dating app or website in 2014, which had risen from 33 people in 2009.
But is there anything that dating app owners themselves can do to make their platforms safer – or is it the responsibility of the user?
Robert Willie, a web developer from Lincoln, told Lincolnshire Reporter: “There are certain industry standards that all good app developers adhere to and I am doubtful an app would be allowed onto the app store if it didn’t comply with these.
“For an app to go onto an app store passwords have to be encrypted and data is usually sent over a secure connection.
“However, on profiles, it is you, the user, that has full control of the information you present.
“The reality is that it is down to individuals.
“In terms of dating apps there is no way of assuring someone is who they say they are. It is common sense, if you go on a date you go to a well known place.
“The issue isn’t concerning the app’s secure connections, it’s about what you are willing to share and making sure you use different passwords so you can’t be hacked. The responsibility is with the user.”
How to stay safe
Hayley Child, Strategy Coordinator for Lincolnshire – Substance Misuse and Sexual Violence & Abuse said: “It’s important to remember that anyone can pretend to be anyone when they are online and until you meet them in person you don’t even know what they look like.
“Implement as many safeguards as possible when you are going on a date.
“Whilst internet dating can be fun and exciting, it does hold an element of risk.
“If you implement as many safeguards as possible it will help you escape a difficult meeting as safely as possible.”
How to stay safe on a date with stranger:
- Pick a pub bar which you know is involved with the ‘Ask for Angela’ Scheme
- Ask for a friend to sit in the bar whilst you are on your date so you know they are close by if needed.
- Inform a friend of where you are going on your date (venue, times etc)
- Provide details to your friend of who you are going to meet (consider sending a screen shot of the persons profile including picture)
- Check in with your friend mid date
- Consider using ‘friend finder’ on your phone
- If you feel in danger or extremely uncomfortable and can’t safely remove yourself from the date go and ask for help from the bar staff
- Always meet in a public place such as a coffee shop.
- Never hand over personal details such as where you live until you have met and feel it is safe to do so
- Consider meeting during a lunch break at a public place to allow yourself a deadline to your date without raising suspicion if you want to end the date soon.