Dating Sites and Sexual Assault

Online dating is becoming a normal part of daily life for many Americans. Statistics say that 1 in 5 new dating relationships begin online. One UK study also reported that sexual assault through online dating sites increased 600% in just 5 years, from 2009 – 2014. After an Our Voice client reported a sexual assault while on a date through an online dating site, I began investigating how these sites handle sexual offenders and rapists.

Most have a section titled something like “online dating tips” which place the burden of safety on the dater. They suggest things like having dates in public places, and refraining from drinking alcohol. They warn about requests for money or personal information. So far, none of the major sites I have explored state that they screen for sexual offenders or do background checks on their members.

It takes some digging through their FAQ sections to find information on how to report a member for sexual assault, and it is not explicitly stated. Instead reports can be filed for “fake” profiles or “inappropriate behavior.” The prevalence of sexual assault, and even using those terms, are largely bypassed on most dating sites.

I started with OK Cupid, and had trouble initially finding a way to contact customer service. Once I emailed, I received an automated reply. However, upon responding to that reply, I received a personal email from a “Moderation Response Coordinator” that was very thoughtful and considerate. They stated that they are making changes to their system to directly report a sexual assault, and for now, any report could be submitted to customer service and the perpetrator would be immediately banned and told only that they had violated the site’s terms. The Coordinator assured me that a report was confidential, that I could report on the behalf of a client, or if the client chose (which was not an obligation) they could report as well.

These questions remain, for the next installment of this blog:

What is to stop a banned perpetrator from just creating another profile? How do other dating sites respond to reports of sexual assault?

What if part of creating a profile on a dating site included viewing a mandatory video and passing a quiz on consent?