Apps like Grindr, Scruff and tinder have revolutionized dating, but also increase users’ risk of being subject to harassment, violence or worse. The same vastness and anonymity that draws many gay men online can also spell disaster.
In the UK, crimes involving hookup-app “romance fraud have increased 700% in the past two years. One London teacher is currently on trial for poisoning four men he met on Grindr, while, in December, news reports surfaced of a gang targeting gay men on hookup apps for robbery.
Assaults, thefts and even murders of app users are becoming all too common in the U.S., as well—including a 25-year-old Pennsylvania man found bludgeoned to death after making plans to meet a man on Grindr.
These victims were simply looking for a connection, be it physical or emotional. The profiles they read said nothing of violence, as their attackers hid behind innocuous photos and flattery.
Any encounter comes with risk—meeting a stranger, even more so. But there are steps you can take to make your experience safer and, should things get ugly, to help you take control of the situation.
Before you meet
Do your research
Most people are on social media, so it’s not hard to do a cursory background check of their behavior on Facebook, twitter and Instagram.
If a guy is eager to send you some very NSFW pics, but is gun-shy about giving you personal details, that’s a red flag.
Agree on expectations
He may be expecting to get laid, whereas when you said “coffee” you actually meant coffee. Managing expectations before you meet lessens the chances of an unpleasant encounter.
Likewise, if the two of you have no problem listing all the positions you want to get into, you should be able to be upfront about your HIV status, relationship status and other issues before you meet up.
Red flag: If he’s not big on clear communication, he might not be right for you.
Trust your gut
Does he seem too good to be true? If his photos look like two different people, or he doesn’t include any face pics, consider letting the opportunity pass.
When you meet
Slow it down
Going to a stranger’s home, or giving him your address, is putting yourself at risk. Meeting someone in public first isn’t just safer, it also gives you a better idea of who they are.
Out in the open
Unfortunately, things don’t always wait until you’re behind closed doors to turn ugly, so be aware of your surroundings.
Know your limits
Don’t feel pressured into anything you don’t want to do—be it drinking, drugs or sex. Don’t let a fear of killing the mood or being awkward push you into an area you’re not uncomfortable in.
Stand up for yourself
Feel confident in protecting yourself if things get out of hand. “Self-defense is anything we do — yelling, running away, negotiating — to be as safe as we can, and to survive, in any moment,” explains The Center for Anti-Violence Education (CAENY).
Yelling is actually one of the best self-defense techniques out there: “It breaks the ’victim role,’ attracts attention, distracts the attacker, and puts you in touch with your power and anger.”
CAENY’s Safe and Proud campaign offers tools for self-defense and de-escalation.
On The Date
Ring the alarm
bSafe , which is free, can discreetly alert friends and set up fake phone calls to help you make your exit. It can also start recording video footage of what’s happening, should you press the alarm.
Kitestring sends users text messages to check that they are okay. If you don’t reply in a given time frame, your contacts are alerted that you may be in trouble.
Emergencee, meanwhile, sends your GPS location to three selected contacts in real-time, so they know exactly where you are. The app even has its own security team that will contact police and ensure you get help fast.
If your date turned into something far more unpleasant, you need to talk to someone. Notifying the authorities can ensure no one else has to go through such a harrowing experience, and talking to a counselor or therapist can help you process what happened.
“It’s important to destigmatize the violence that folks face when dating or hooking up online by saying loudly and clearly: nobody has the right to pressure you to do anything, or act violently toward you, no matter how you met,” says the Anti-Violence Project’s Beverly Tillery. “Even if you don’t feel comfortable reporting hook-up violence to the police – as many LGBTQ survivors do not – you can safely and confidentially report to AVP, and access our services.
Outside New York, you can find groups affiliated with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.