With about one in every 10 Americans using an online dating site or mobile dating app, it is important to keep in mind the possible dangers of meeting a complete stranger.
According to a report by the Pew Research Center, 11 percent of American adults have used sites to look for romantic relationships.
And although more than half of all Internet users agree that online dating is a good way to meet people and a large percentage met their long-term partners or spouses through a dating site — some encounters are not always positive.
About 54 percent of online daters have said they in some way felt a user misrepresent themselves in their profile and 28 percent say they have felt harassed or uncomfortable by someone they contacted through a site.
According to Min Um-Mandhyan, director of development and communications for the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, with the growing popularity of online dating, it is important to take caution and understand ways in which you can ensure your safety.
Users can obtain certain information of people by looking at social media profiles, or running background checks or looking at sex offenders registries.
She added that also recognizing early symptoms — such as a date being pushy or jealous — of abusive relationship is also important.
Um-Mandhyan also said that it is imperative for dating sites and apps to take responsibility for all the users and be there for those who might feel intimidated by others.
“Creating an online dating community with no tolerance for predatory behavior and sexual assault should be up to service providers,” Um-Mandhyan said. “They should proactively run thorough background check on all users. They should make users aware of symptoms of dating violence and support users who report any suspicious activities and investigate them in a timely manner."
Sites such as eHarmony do offer users a list of the do’s and don’ts of online dating, for example letting a friend know about a date, meeting a public place, and staying sober.
However, although safety tips are helpful, according to Amy Edelstein, director of the Safe Horizon Staten Island Community Program, there is no way to prevent extreme cases like a sexual assault — such as a woman being raped at the Port Authority Terminal last week by her eHarmony date — from happening.
Edelstein added that according to data obtained by Safe Horizon, there has been no noticeable uptick in sexual assaults from online dating meetups. She said that most sexual assault incidents involve people in a current or previous intimate partner relationship.
“It really is a protective factor that people grab onto the myth that you are most vulnerable to sexual assault when you meet strangers,” Edelstein said. “Reality is that it is a scary world we live in.”
Most prevalent sexual violence comes from people known to a victim, according to Edelstein, and there is no one thing that can be done to prevent becoming a victim.
Safe Horizon aims to be there to support survivors in the aftermath of their victimization and can help manage what happens after an attack, which has a life-changing impact on victims.
The organization offers free services to victims of crime and abuse, and also offers a 24-hour crime victims hotline at 866-689-HELP (4357).