New research shows sex offenders use dating apps as “hunting grounds” for vulnerable victims

Violent sex offenders use dating apps as “hunting grounds” where they find it easier to attack vulnerable victims, a new study finds.

Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers analyzed the records of sexual assault victims in Utah between 2017 and 2020.

BYU Nursing Professor Dr. Julie Valentine said her findings were “incredibly worrying”.

Research showed that 14 percent of the 1,968 rapes committed by acquaintances occurred after a meeting arranged through a dating app.

These attacks were also found to be more violent, with a third of the victims strangled and a quarter sustained chest injuries.

dr Valentine explained the intent of her research: “We had started to see an increase in victims reporting being raped after meeting someone on a dating app, and we wanted to know if rape-related behaviors were increasing through dating.” -Apps were distinguished from other acquaintance rapes.

“They are very different indeed,” she concluded.

In the study published in Journal of Interpersonal Violence47 percent of victims of rape by acquaintances unrelated to dating apps reported a mental illness.

But that number rose to 60 percent among those who were attacked by an acquaintance hit via an app.

College students were also more likely to be victims of dating app-assisted attacks, and male victims were almost twice as likely to be victims of app-related attacks than other attacks by acquaintances.

Perpetrators of dating app-assisted rapes appeared to be unusually violent, with the attacks causing more victim injuries than other acquaintance rapes.

A quarter of victims had chest injuries and about 33 percent of victims reported being strangled, while 22 percent of victims who were not first encountering abusers through an app reported strangulation.

“In a dating app, people can frame themselves in how they want to approach vulnerable victims,” ​​said Dr. Valentine, adding, “People with mental illnesses such as depression may be more susceptible to a predator who, for example, flatters them extensively and convince them to meet in person.”

Previous research shows that people with a mental illness are already more likely to be victims of sexual assault.

One of the reasons, she explained, was the lack of “verifications” when using dating apps.

She said: “People used to meet through mutual friends or at work or at school and there was a certain level of scrutiny that happened before the date. Dating apps have completely taken that process away.”

She also said current dating app security measures — a written set of guidelines for safe dating — are inadequate because they put the security burden on potential victims.

Victims may blame themselves for being exploited for not following guidelines to the letter, and their self-blame may discourage them from reporting the attack.

Instead, the authors recommend dating app companies improve their security standards.

dr Valentine said, “Dating app companies can improve artificial intelligence to identify offenders, have stricter identification requirements for users, conduct criminal history research at no extra charge, and connect with other companies to ensure offenders don’t just move from one app to the other.” other jump .

“They can also improve opportunities for victims to report assaults and provide more victim support services.”

Her team at BYU is already working with dating app companies and lawmakers to draft a Utah bill called Online Dating Safety Requirements.

They believe the law has a good chance of passing and hope other states in the US will follow suit.

dr Valentine said: “What I don’t want people to take away from the study is that we shouldn’t be using dating apps – they’re the primary way happy couples meet.

“We want to keep that, but increase security.”

Reporting by SWNS

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can contact your nearest Rape Crisis organization for specialized, independent and confidential support. Visit their website for more information here.

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