Dating app dangers: is swiping safe?

Increasing use in dating apps among young singles brings the dangers associated with meeting up with an online stranger. (Photo illustration by Ty Mullen)

Editor’s note: this story pairs with “LDS singles find love on Mutual dating app”

Rachelle Riffle matched with a man on Mutual, an LDS dating app, and felt they were hitting it off over online messaging. 

They decided to meet up in person. One date turned into another, and they began building a relationship. However, Riffle said he started acting distant, and after two months they broke things off.

A few months later, Riffle came across a shocking Deseret News article stating the man she’d dated had been charged with multiple felonies related to forcing a woman to perform sex acts. He’d met the alleged victim on Mutual, as well.

Dating app dangers

“That’s been racking my brain,” said Riffle, a BYU graduate and researcher at the University of Utah. “That was too close for comfort.”

According to the article, Riffle’s ex, James Matthew Cheshire, 30, of Murray, Utah was charged Feb. 21 in 2nd District Court with three counts of forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony, and four counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.

Riffle said Cheshire never harmed her, but while they were dating she did notice “this kind of intense, simmering anger problem,” which started to concern her.

Dating apps have grown significantly in popularity among Americans ages 18 to 24 since 2013, according to the Pew Research Center. With that growth comes the potential dangers of meeting in person with a stranger found online.

Provo Police Department Sgt. Nisha King said the biggest danger while using dating apps comes down to identification.

“Confirming anyone’s identity is a difficult task,” King said. “How do you confirm someone is who they say they are?”

King said even she has multiple fake profiles online for police investigative purposes.

Cooper Boice, founder and president of Mutual, said safety on dating apps is a serious topic.

“There are some unique things about dating apps and online dating,” Boice said. “People can start forming a relationship before ever dating. They can have a false sense of security.”

Riffle’s other dating app scare

Riffle encountered another man on Mutual who wasn’t the trustworthy Latter-day Saint she believed him to be. According to Riffle, she met him in public for their first date, but for their second date the man suggested they watch a movie together in her living room.

Her date soon took advantage of her physically. Riffle said she froze up in panic at first, but eventually was able to push him off of her before it escalated further.

For Riffle’s full account of the incident, listen to her story below:

Riffle said she did not report this incident to law enforcement because the man stopped his advances when she showed resistance.

Riffle said she strongly believes people have a greater false sense of security while using Mutual than while using other dating apps because, in theory, all the users are Mormons.

“I fancy myself a strong independent woman who can make choices for herself and speak up and who isn’t afraid to use her voice,” Riffle said. “And yet I can become so incredibly naive when it comes to dating apps, specifically the Mutual one, because there’s something that makes you feel you can trust someone when they say they’ve been on a mission and go to church.”

Riffle said she has learned the rough but enlightening lesson to be more skeptical on dating apps.

“I think we’re all a little naive sometimes and a little trusting,” Riffle said. “Because we do feel comfort in matching and talking to and meeting up with fellow members of the church, but that doesn’t always make them a good person.”

Another woman’s frightening dating app experience

BYU alumna and Sandy resident Tiana Moe also had a dangerous encounter with a man she met through Tinder.

In 2014, she had recently returned home early from her mission due to depression and anxiety. She said she was going through a disheartening, discouraging time in her life and didn’t care if she walked into a dangerous situation.

So when she matched with a man on Tinder who asked her to come to his place to watch a movie rather than meet in public first, she ignored the warning signs.

“He said that he was … finishing up his undergraduate at BYU,” Moe said. “There were a whole bunch of things he was saying that made me believe he was a pretty safe guy.”

Moe said she went to his place and sat down with him on a loveseat to watch a movie.

“He gradually came onto me, essentially where he wanted to cuddle, and I was OK with that,” Moe said. “Then he wanted to hold my hand, and I was OK with that. Then he got handsy, and I didn’t say ‘no.’ Eventually I stopped him before sex.”

Moe said after she resisted his advances, the man told her to leave. His handling left her with bruises.

“I’m grateful it happened because it opened my eyes to what could have happened,” Moe said.

She said she did not report this incident to law enforcement because the man stopped his advances when she resisted.

Moe said just a few weeks ago, she matched with a man on Mutual who proposed a similar meetup, inviting her over to his place at night and mentioning he had a projector set up in his bedroom.

“I was definitely not interested anymore and I unmatched him and that was that,” Moe said.

Moe said her experience in 2014 was the exact reason why she automatically said no to this match on Mutual.

“People use (dating apps) to target unsuspecting girls all the time,” Moe said.

Incident procedures

Most dating apps have the option of reporting another user for doing something wrong, ranging from using an inappropriate profile picture to sexual assault.

Boice said he and his employees respond to these reports in a variety of ways, depending on the situation.

“Let’s say multiple people report someone for sexually explicit messages,” Boice said. “We immediately ban the offender so that they can’t interact with anyone else.”

Boice said when Mutual employees follow up on reports, sometimes they are valid and sometimes they are not.

“Generally we’ll investigate it as far as we can and talk with the person who did the reporting to verify what happened and what actions should be taken,” Boice said. “We do what we can to get rid of the creeps and keep it classy.”

Boice said when Mutual is approached by law enforcement, they work directly with officers to provide all the necessary information they can. He said he heard about the charges brought against Cheshire in a sexual assault case in the news but has not been contacted by law enforcement about it.

King said Provo Police have worked with Mutual in the past. The police’s standard procedure when getting information from businesses such as Mutual is to file an administrative subpoena first.

These subpoenas are usually used to get identifiable information and contact information of the accused person, but sometimes police can get the information they need straight from the victim.

“Most of the time the victim will pull up the information on their dating app and show the profile of the person they met and show us their conversations,” King said.

Swipe safely

“The safety of of Mutual users is our number-one priority,” Boice said. He added they employ safety measures, including requiring every user sign up with a Facebook account, to ensure authenticity. Mutual employees review the Facebook profile of each person who signs up to ensure it falls within LDS standards.

Boice suggested all dating app users follow three safety precautions:

Mutual founder and president Cooper Boice suggests these three safety tips to all dating app users. (McKenna Park)

Boice added he would encourage anyone experiencing sexual assault to not only use their in-app report feature but also report to law enforcement.

Moe strongly suggested meeting first dates in public places to stay safe.

“If you don’t know him or her, you have no idea what they look like, what their intentions are — you don’t know anything,” Moe said. “So at the very least, meet them in a public place, preferably meeting them in a group date.”

Moe also suggested to be wary of people who come off as untrustworthy.

“Follow the spirit, follow your gut, follow your intuition, whatever you feel like calling it,” Moe said. “You can generally tell if someone isn’t trustworthy.”

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