Online dating users have been warned off apps such as Tinder and Grindr amid fears they enable sexual predators to target victims.
Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, outgoing chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said the numbers seeking help for sexual assault increased last year and while a link could not yet be proven, she was very concerned at the growth of Tinder and similar services.
“It’s really important for people to realise how dangerous it can be, because you have prepetrators out there seeking vulnerable people. That site [Tinder] can be an extremely dangerous site,” she told RTÉ.
Her comments came after statistics in the UK showed a seven-fold increase in just two years in the number of sexual assault victims reporting to police that they had met their attacker through Tinder or Grindr.
Ms O’Malley-Dunlop, who is standing as an independent candidate in the Seanad elections, said people contacting the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre or its national 24-hour helpline would not divulge if they had met their attacker through an app because of feeling ashamed.
“The last thing you want to do is get into victim blaming, no matter what the situation is,” she said. “In time, we will know [if there is a link], because conversations like this will help people to come forward and to talk about their experiences and in that way, we will be able to monitor what’s happening.”
But she said she believed people should avoid the apps altogether. “People are going on the Tinder website specifically to have a sexual relationship with another outside the realms of any other type of relationship and that is very concerning.
“You can have prepetrators who are out there just to abuse another. People are putting themselves in in an extremely vulnerable situation and that’s why we need to talk about it.”
The number of sexual assaults reported to gardaí increased 14% countrywide in the first nine months of last year and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said it saw a 33% increase in the number of people it accompanied to the Dublin Sexual Assault Treatment Unit.
Tinder, which claims 50m users worldwide, has more than 10,000 signed up in Ireland, while Grindr, which has over 10m worldwide users, is also popular here.
Both offer safety tips, with Tinder stressing that it does not do criminal checks on users.
Grindr warns that it cannot completely protect a user’s location, saying even if a user blocks the facility that shows their current distance from another user, tech-savvy users may be able to find them.
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