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Study: Sexual predators use dating apps as hunting grounds

“What we found is incredibly concerning."

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By Danny Halpin via SWNS

Violent sexual predators are using dating apps as hunting grounds where they find it easier to target vulnerable victims, according to new research.

Researchers who analyzed sexual assault victims’ records between 2017 and 2020 found that 14 percent of the 1,968 rapes committed by acquaintances occurred after a meetup arranged through a dating app.

These attacks were also found to be more violent with a third of victims being strangled and a quarter suffering breast injuries.

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Dr. Julie Valentine of Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah said: “What we found is incredibly concerning.

“We’d started to see an increase of victims reporting being raped after meeting someone on a dating app, and we wanted to know if rapes facilitated through dating apps differed from other acquaintance rapes.

"They are indeed very different.

“In a dating app, people can shape themselves however they want to appeal to vulnerable victims."

“Those with mental illnesses like depression may be more susceptible to a predator who might, for example, flatter them profusely and persuade them to meet in person.”

Prior research shows that individuals with mental illness are already more likely to be sexually assaulted.

In the study, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 47 percent of the victims of acquaintance rape unrelated to dating apps disclosed a mental illness.

But this number rose to 60 percent among those who were assaulted by an acquaintance met through an app.

College students were also more likely to be victims of dating-app-facilitated assaults, and male victims were nearly twice as common among app-related assaults as among other acquaintance assaults.

The perpetrators in dating-app-facilitated rapes seemed to be unusually violent, with the attacks producing more victim injuries than other acquaintance rapes.

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A quarter of the victims had breast injuries and about 33 percent of the victims reported being strangled, while 22 percent of victims who were not meeting perpetrators for the first time through an app reported strangulation.

Dr. Valentine said: “It used to be that people would meet through mutual friends or at work or school, and there was a degree of vetting that went in place before dating. Dating apps have completely taken away that process.”

She also said that current safety measures in dating apps – a written set of guidelines for safe dating – are inadequate because it places the burden of safety on potential victims.

Victims might blame themselves for being preyed upon as they did not follow the guidelines to the letter and their self-blame could dissuade them from reporting the assault.

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

Dr. Valentine said: “Dating app companies can increase artificial intelligence to identify perpetrators, have stricter identification requirements for users, run criminal history searches at no extra charge and connect with other companies to ensure that perpetrators aren’t just jumping from one app to another.

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

Her team at BYU is already collaborating with dating app companies and legislators to draft a bill in Utah, called Online Dating Safety Requirements.

They believe the bill 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 from the study is that we shouldn’t use dating apps – they’re the number-one way that happy couples meet.

"We want to preserve that but increase the safety.”

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