Cracking down on the dangers of online dating

The NYT reports that the growing online dating scene isn’t without risk, and the private and public sector are starting to take notice:

For a small fee, a nascent crop of companies wants to help you find out by running background checks on the potential flames you encounter on Match.com, eHarmony or any of the nation’s nearly 1,500 dating Web sites.

At the same time, at least two states, New York and New Jersey, have begun regulating Internet dating sites, and legal experts say they believe changes to the liability laws that protect such sites are on the horizon.

This is not just fear-mongering or profit-seeking, of course. Cases like Jeffrey Marsalis, a serial rapist who met his victims online, are evidence that all of us need to be cautious about the ways in which we use online spaces–romantic or otherwise. There is no official data, as of yet, about crime related to online dating.

I hope these burgeoning businesses and pending legislation won’t make women feel fearful about finding love and sex online. As with all of the other technological trends that are shaping our lives, the online world inevitably mirrors the offline world (even if the mirror can sometimes seem more fun house distortion than accurate reflection.) Sexual assault is an all too common reality. Period. Whether a woman is assaulted by someone she met online or at a bar or, well, let’s be real, at church or in her own family–there’s only so much vigilance she can exercise.

Of course, if utilizing some of these new background check apps and/or having the security of more fine-tuned liability legislation makes folks feel freer to pursue their own desires, I’m all for it. I just hope that it won’t become another weapon for victim-blaming (Why didn’t she conduct due diligence? Was she asking for it?) or work people into a fear-based state about online dating. People deserve pleasure and fun and love without hiring private investigators.

I’m curious about readers thoughts, particularly as I’ve never done online dating myself.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

    My thought is they should have just published the sentence “No one has put a number on how much violence stems from dating sites” instead of the rest of the article, since it made everything else meaningless.

    I don’t really see why companies who want to sell you background checks pointing a finger at online dating, without any data indicating that online dating is more dangerous than meeting people any other way (or more dangerous than crossing the street) are “not just fear-mongering or profit-seeking”. That strikes me as exactly what they’re doing.

    • honeybee

      Yeah I’m confused on that too. Wouldn’t doing a background check on someone you meet at a bar be just as relevant as online? Why does it matter how you met someone if the concern is based around not knowing much about them. That’s generally the case no matter how you met them.

      Personally I think doing background checks on potential partners is going too far. I don’t want to live in a society where that is required. And honestly if I found out my partner or person I was dating did a background check on me I’d be royally offended.

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    I know many couples who have tried online dating and ended up getting married, or in long-term partnerships. My partner mentions women she works with who opted for online dating out of disgust with the failure of prior face-to-face attempts. In the beginning, I think there was a stigma about it, but that seems to have lessened quite a bit. It was once a novelty and now it’s just a matter of course. For people who are socially awkward, to whatever degree, I think it’s an especially viable option.

    I tried it a few times myself, finding the results to be a bit underwhelming, but success and failure is often dependent on city or area. I lived in a city then where people had long formed tightly-wound social networks and rarely looked outside them. Here in DC, with so many people transplanted from somewhere else, social networks based on consistency and long-term memory simply do not exist. People move here, find the dating pool at work or perhaps school severely limiting, and then often opt for online.

    I’ve also often discovered that men or women with physical attributes out of favor by societal norms find online a viable option as well. For example, the woman who is six feet tall or more, or the guy who is considered too short can present themselves as more than how they look on the outside.

  • http://feministing.com/members/deafbrowntrash/ deafbrowntrash

    I envy guys (straight or gay) who seek sex partners online and then meet them in real life for a potential “casual encounter.” For me, I’ve never tried it because I am worried about getting raped or potentially hooking up with a guy who turns out to be a total psychopath who will become obsessed w/ me and then stalk me (maybe I’m paranoid?)

    I have made FRIENDS online whom I then met in real life, I always made sure to meet ‘em in public places. But I’ve never tried online dating (or online hook-ups), because it seems dangerous and so much more risky. Also, how can you be sure that a random stranger dude you met on OKCupid or AdultFriendFinder, doesn’t have herpes or AIDS??? Whereas it’s so much more safe to date or hook up with someone that your friends know, because there is a degree of familiarity, which makes it more safe (but not always, of course).

    Just my opinion, and I don’t mean to offend anyone who have had amazing experiences from online dating or online hook-ups,

    • honeybee

      I guess if it is a close friend and they know person well it is safer. But otherwise it seems the same to me. But regardless restricting potential partners/dates to only trusted friends of trusted friends seems pretty limiting or not even possible at all for many people. Most people need to meet ‘strangers’ in one way or another. Meeting them online doesn’t seem inherently anymore dangerous then any other method.

    • sex-toy-james

      I’ve done some online dating, but never the online hookup thing. You meet in a public place, and then use your judgment from there. I believe that in online dating it’s very socially acceptable to take precautions. You can become friends on Facebook, so you can see who they are outside of their tailored dating image. You can have a safe call set up. You can take your picture together and upload it to Facebook from your phone so there’s a record of who you’re with. You can say “You’re a perfectly nice person, but you’ll understand if I prefer to stay in public places for the first couple dates in case you’re a charming serial killer.” Despite my size, strength, and scruffiness, I generally get judged as nonthreatening pretty much off the bat, for reasons I don’t understand, but are never-the-less accurate.
      As for STDs, you don’t know that your friends don’t have AIDS and herpes. You shouldn’t have unprotected sex with them either until you get them tested. Your trusting someone or knowing all of their friends doesn’t mean that they didn’t slip up and catch something they don’t know about.
      If you take cautions so people know where you are and where you will be, and you take common sense steps to protect yourself, you could be nearly invincible. Any guy who’s insulted by your sensible caution, not worth it anyway.

      The American public seems to have an endless capacity to be alarmed by things just because they’re associated with the internet. Short-sighted government officials have proposed laws before that would require background checks, finger-printing, and other excessive measure that would make online dating prohibitively expensive and cumbersome.

  • http://feministing.com/members/athenia/ athenia

    Bah. This is completely profit-seeking and made to exploit insecurities about dating online and rape culture.

    Many people are raped around the world without needing the internet, so honestly, this one is more thing that puts a person’s safety on them rather than the abuser.

    The only thing that is different is that you can’t evaluate a person’s mannerisms unfiltered by the phone, computer or a picture first. So, I’ve had friends who’ve had a great conversation online, but then the date took a nose dive real fast once they met in person.