- Illustration by Elena Trapp
Dating is a pain in the ass. But with every first date you’re risking more than a boring night or an uncomfortable conversation. While there’s no data of this kind available for the U.S., research from the UK National Crime Agency shows that incidents of sexual assault initiated through online dating platforms rose six-fold between 2009 and 2014 in the UK. With the plethora of dating apps now available that weren’t around in 2014, you can imagine that this number has gone up.
On this side of the pond, a new report from backgroundchecks.org ranked the most dangerous states for online dating. Colorado came in fifth.
So here’s a reminder: You never truly know someone on the internet; and when that attractive photo on your phone screen smiles at you, it might be easy to forgo caution, swipe right and hope for the best. But no matter where you live, which app you use, or whether you’re looking for a hookup or the next love of your life, you should always be cautious.
To help toward that endeavor, we scoured over tips from backgroundchecks.org, online dating sites like eHarmony, and publications ranging from Psychology Today to Cosmopolitan magazine. Here are some safety lessons we gleaned:
1. Fuck that guy, Google is your boyfriend now:
People leave information lying around the internet like discarded dirty socks, and this information is often effortless to access. By searching someone’s name, state of residence or age, you can find alternate social media accounts, buried blog posts, or even (worst case scenario) news stories detailing criminal activity. Moreover, Google has a really handy “search by image” feature. Run your date’s profile photo through that search, and make sure they’re who they say they are.
2. Spill all the deets:
Don’t be embarrassed or coy; tell your friends and family about your date. Show off their picture, tell at least one person their full name, what they do for a living. Friends and family can often spot red flags that we, with our rose-colored glasses on, cannot.
3. Location, location, location:
When you’re meeting someone for the first time, do so in a public and well-populated place like a café or restaurant. (Steer clear of anywhere that serves alcohol.) Ideally, pick a location outside your usual stomping grounds, so your date doesn’t know right away what neighborhood you call home. Also, be sure to drive yourself or get an Uber or Lyft. You want to have your own exit strategy.
Also: Turn on your phone’s location-sharing so a trusted friend can keep an eye out for you. There’s an app for this: Find My Friends.
4. Pull back the curtain:
Online, it’s tempting to pretend to be a better/cooler/more attractive person than we are, but if someone lies about the small things, they could be lying about the big things. Ask for verification about anything you need to feel comfortable. This could mean a Skype conversation, so you can talk face-to-face before meeting in-person, or pictures from places they say they’ve been or jobs they say they’ve had.
5. ...But maintain some discretion:
Though you may be in a position to provide photos or information to put your date’s mind at ease, too, there are some details you should never reveal to someone you haven’t yet met in person. Especially: Don’t give them your address. This can be tricky if your date’s an amateur internet sleuth. Parts of your voter registration records are public information, including address, so you might want to go the extra mile and request confidential voter status. It’s only $5 in El Paso County (tinyurl.com/VoterRecordsInfo). Also, make sure your privacy settings on social media are robust, and trust your instincts. If something feels fishy, you have every right to refuse to answer a question, and leave that person on read.