While millions of happy couples can attest to the joys of online dating, recent BYU research reveals there is a more sinister side to swiping for dates.
Dr. Julie Valentine, associate dean of undergraduate studies at BYU and forensic nurse, has a sobering statistic in her latest research: 14% of rapes in Utah happen on dating app meetups.
“Out of acquaintance sexual assaults it was 14% — that’s a lot — that met on a dating app and were raped at the first in-person meeting,” she said.
According to the research, many assaults appeared to be premeditated.
“We believe that our findings indicate that violent sexual predators use these dating apps looking for vulnerable victims,” Valentine said.
Alli, a BYU student who asked to keep her last name confidential, has experienced firsthand an online date gone wrong.
“The next thing I know, he’s like trying to make out with me and we’re in the backseat of his car, so I can’t really move much,” she said, recalling how her date made unwanted advances and didn’t respond to her rejection. “I kept trying to turn my mouth away but there wasn’t really anything I could do, like he just didn’t get the message.”
Alli says she never imagined being in a situation like that and froze.
“It just never crossed my mind that something like that could happen to me,” she said. “I think we make assumptions about people like, because they’re a member of the Church, and I mean that’s not always true and sometimes they could still have bad intentions.”
Or, they could be lying.
“People can be whoever they want to be on a dating app,” Valentine said. “They can create a persona that looks very non-threatening.”
Valentine said most dating apps have guidelines for “avoiding assault”, but never explicitly refer to sexual assault — and skirting around the problem is only exacerbating it. The apps tell users how to stay safe and prevent assault without providing resources for victims or explaining what assault is.
“What that inadvertently does is it then says, ‘Well, to prevent rapes, the victims are responsible for following these guidelines,'” she explained.
Up next, Valentine and her colleagues are pushing legislation in Utah that would help keep dating companies accountable.
“It will require dating apps that are used here in Utah to clearly state if they do or do not do background checks,” Valentine said. The legislation would also require more thorough information about what sexual assault is and resources for victims.
Valentine is not aiming to keep people off of dating apps or say they are inherently bad. Rather, she is calling for more responsibility from the companies that run the apps.
“There’s a lot of great things about dating apps,” she said. “But we want the dating app companies to make their sites safer.”
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, Title IX has a list of resources for reporting and counseling.