Online dating safety bill enters Senate

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The Online Dating Safety Amendment bill entered the Senate on Jan. 25. If this bill passes, it would require dating apps in Utah to include safety tips and reminders. (Anne Freer)

House Bill 18, requiring online dating apps based in Utah to include helpful safety tips and reminders, progressed to the Senate on Jan. 25.

Adoption of this bill would mean that dating apps would be required to have safety notifications and disclosures. These apps would also be required to provide information to users on how to report if something inappropriate does happen.

In accordance with the bill, a few of the changes dating apps would have to make is including headings and subheadings with topics such as: “Online Dating Safety Awareness,” “Protecting Yourself from Sexual Assault and Dating Violence” and “Protecting Yourself from Financial Crimes.” Apps will also be required to have disclosures about the inaccuracy of some criminal background checks.

In recent years, there has been a recent spike in sexual assault cases in Utah. According to data from the Utah Department of Public Safety, from 2017-2020 an average 374 people reported sexual assault to the police every year. That number rose to 700 cases in 2021 and continued to rise in 2022.

Julie Valentine, an associate dean and associate professor at the BYU College of Nursing, has done extensive research on sexual assault and co-wrote HB 18.

“This bill is important as it would mandate that dating app companies explicitly provide information about sexual assault, clear mechanisms for reporting sexual assault and information on survivor support services,” Valentine said.

Valentine’s recent study is the basis for this legislation. The study looked into dating app-facilitated sexual assault compared to other sexual assaults.

“Our findings about sexual assault after meeting on a dating app are very concerning and indicate that violent predators use dating apps as hunting grounds for vulnerable victims,” Valentine said. The recent popularity of dating apps is believed to be contributing to the rise of sexual assaults.

“Over 50% of college students use dating apps, so improving safety in dating apps improves safety for college students,” Valentine said.

Representative Angela Romero is the bill sponsor and has spent a lot of time focusing on sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking. “It just reminds people, before meeting someone, just have a plan,” Romero said regarding the bill. Romero said that it is important that the language of the bill does not victim blame but hopes that the safety tips are helpful if something were to happen.

Emma Semus is a BYU student and always has a plan before going out with someone. “My roommates and a few other friends always have my location, and I will always tell them where I’m going, who I’m with and we check in multiple times per date. Whenever my friends go on a date, they do the exact same thing,” Semus said.

Semus added that she does this with every date but it is more stressful when she is going out with someone she has never met.

“I’m a public health major, and from the perspective of dating violence and domestic violence as a public health issue, I think that this bill is a great step,” Semus said.

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