Dangerous dates. It can feel like there isn’t a day goes by without a story of someone coming to harm as a result of going on one, especially since the flood of stories that have swept forth since #MeToo. But while the internet is awash with tales of traumatic encounters, it’s important to get the level of risk into perspective. Sexual crimes are, according to the Office of National Statistics (as reported here by the BBC), slightly on the up, although significantly reduced since the 1990s — and before the invention of dating apps. And while rapes remain one of the crimes with a low rate of conviction, the authorities are taking sexual violence ever more seriously.
Keeping safe when you’re arranging to meet a new person for the first time, or even merely chatting to them online can be fraught in the digital age. The key thing to bear in mind is that most people know far more than you think they do about your identity and whereabouts because of the clues we all leave across social media and the internet. Whether it’s tagging yourself at a restaurant, live-streaming your walk to work or merely the deluge of photos, it’s relatively easy to find someone online — and offline, as a result. It’s all very well shying away from sharing your phone number with someone, but in most cases, all the information they already need to track you down is probably online.
That means if you do want to meet, be sure to keep it public. Arrange to meet in a well-lit and bustling environment with plenty of other people around you. If it’s someone you’re meeting for the first time, tell a friend where you are going and who with. And plan your route home before you leave for the venue in the first place — especially important if you’re going to be drinking alcohol.
An offer of an Uber home might seem generous, but that puts the person you’re on the date with in control of your exit out and gives them your address — far better to get them to hail you a cab if necessary. If you’ve just met someone, don’t accept a lift alone with them in their car — and don’t worry about offending someone by saying no.
A responsible date will respect your need to feel safe. The same thing applies to having sex with someone you’ve just met. It’s 2019 and you can sleep with whoever you like, of course, this isn’t about judgement. But going back to the house of someone you’ve just met is never the safest thing to do — unless you can call a friend or trusted confidante to tell them exactly what you are doing and where you are going — and let them know when you leave the following morning. If you do want to have that one-night stand, this is a pretty good option.
A word about alcohol. It’s easy to forget just how vulnerable drinking can make us, given that it’s such an intrinsic part of dating culture. But it’s something to watch if you want to keep your judgement intact. Make no mistake — in the event you’ve had too much to drink, that doesn’t in any way excuse a dubious person’s behaviour. But keeping drinking on the low can sometimes make it easier to spot if someone’s behaviour is odd or suspicious in the first place. If you are in a UK bar on a date which isn’t going well, you can also go up to the bar staff and ‘Ask for Angela’ which is code for telling them you’re in trouble and would like to end the date away from the person you’re with.
While it might feel that dating apps offer an added element of protection when introducing yourself to strangers, it very much depends on the app. When choosing what dating app to use, bear in mind that apps are divided into those that do use other kinds of social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn to verify your app and those that don’t. Opt for the first kind — from the off it decreases your chances of harassment as it’s been proven that being linked across other networks improves users’ general behaviour and manners. While there’s no specific law in place requiring apps to shield users from harassment, any dating operation worth its salt will have a robust reporting procedure in place designed to put you in control of the kinds of messages you receive.
So if someone you’ve been talking to online repeatedly harasses or threatens you, report them to the app in question — even if the harassment happens on another messaging service like Whatsapp. Most apps that can see there’s something serious going on will often cooperate with you and the police to keep you safe.
Remember, dating apps can’t actually read the DMs between users so if you need to prove the offence, it’s best to screenshot any offensive messages and send them along with the details to the support email address at the dating app. And importantly, if you fear you are in imminent danger, or are worried the app isn’t taking your complaint seriously, cut to the chase and call the police. They will be able to advise you of any steps you need to take to keep yourself safe under the circumstances.
There is a potential tech solution to this problem too. Entrepreneur Emma Sayle recently created the app Safe Date. Safe Date works by storing details of your date — where you are going, and who with — securely in the app, only sharing them with a trusted friend in the event you don’t check in from your date within a set time. It requires some getting used to — you need to vigilantly get used to the checking in process, otherwise you can cause your loved ones and friends a whole heap of anxiety, and it won’t work if you don’t take other safety precautions, such as meeting in a public place, but it’s certainly useful if you have someone that overly frets about your dating activities.
The key thing to bear in mind when dating is that, while occasional terrible things do happen, there are plenty of things you can do to eliminate the risks involved — and these all revolve around staying public, sharing information about your whereabouts and taking your time to trust someone. Just because you have a fabulous first date or feel you click immediately, it’s important to remember that it takes time to really get to know someone. The slower you can go with them, and the more chance you can give yourself to tune into your instincts if something doesn’t feel right, the greater the chance you have of being one of the stories we never hear about on the internet.