In the last year, the news has been inundated with stories of gay-baiting incidents where criminals and homophobes used dating apps and sites to lure LGBT individuals into romantic meetups that end with robbery, beatings, and even death. While these are tragic events, they have been met with the same criticism from both straight people and members of the LGBTQ community alike. "You deserve whatever you get for being on those apps"
If you're like me, and you're from a small town where the gay population is low and the people who are out is even lower, apps are sometimes the only way to meet anyone gay for miles!
And though the apps sometimes get a bad rap for being "hookup apps" and you can certainly use them for that purpose, they are also used more often for finding friends, promoting businesses and a vast majority of same sex relationships are started through interactions that began online or an app.
Law enforcement announced, as reported in a Jan. 11 Telegraph article, that crimes linked to dating apps there skyrocketed over the past couple of years.
“As more and more LGBTQ people are using apps and sites to meet people and hook up online, tracking and analyzing this information will help us to better understand how to prevent violence,” a law enforcement spokesperson stated “But survivors are often reluctant to report this kind of violence because of the stigma related to using these apps.”
No one deserves to be robbed for using a dating app.
No one deserves to get killed for using a dating app. No matter what their intentions were for signing up and logging in.
So what can you do to stay safe? Here are some tips.
1. Avoid sites and apps that let just anyone message you. Unfortunately, people already get lots of unpleasant and disrespectful messages. That probably can’t be completely avoided, but if you use an app that requires both parties to express interest before they start messaging, you may get fewer messages that make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
2. Pay attention to the geography settings in dating apps. Many dating apps use your location, but strangers shouldn’t have access to information that lets them find your specific neighborhood.
3. Use unique photos for your dating profile. It is really easy to do a reverse image search with Google. If your dating profile has a photo that also shows up on your Instagram or Facebook account, it will be easier for someone to find you on social media.
4. Avoid putting lots of personal details on your profile. Don’t include your last name, contact information, or social media account handles. And while you’re checking your online dating profile, check your other social media accounts. Do they have lots of information that would make it easy for a stranger to steal your identity or track you down in real life? Reevaluate what you’re sharing—even if you’ve got tight privacy settings, there’s the possibility that someone in your friend list could share information from your profile with someone you don’t know.
5. Use the dating app’s messaging system. It might be less convenient than texting with your phone’s default messaging system, but it gives you extra protection.
6. Set up a Google Voice phone number just for dating. At some point, you may want to talk to someone on the phone before you meet them in person. But instead of giving your real phone number to someone you don’t know, consider using a Google phone number and forwarding it to your phone. It’s pretty easy—once you log in to Google Voice, you can search by area code and choose an available number. Once you pick a number, the instructions will walk you through the rest of the setup.
7. Talk to mutual friends. Dating apps will sometimes show you when you and the person you’re talking to have mutual friends. Check in with those friends and find out what they think of the person you’re interested in.
8. Get to know them, but don’t share too many details at first. The point of talking online is to get to know someone better, but it’s still smart to wait to share more personal details until you’ve met them in person. Unfortunately, someone who seems great when chatting in an app could be very different in real life.
9. Arrange your own transportation. It’s smart to avoid letting someone know exactly where you live until you know them better. Drive yourself to the date or get a ride, but don’t have your date pick you up or take you home.
10. Meet in a public place for your first date. The first date is a great time to try out a coffee shop, wander through a museum, or chat over dinner and drinks.
11. Stay aware and alert. You should be able to trust those around you to be respectful, safe, and kind, but unfortunately that’s not always reality. Take extra care of yourself when you’re out with a stranger. Don’t leave your drink unattended, drink less than you would if you were out with close friends, and avoid staying out until you’re really tired.
12. Enlist the help of a friend. Let someone know you’re going out with someone new, tell them where you’re going, and set a time for them to check in on you and make sure you’re okay.
13. Keep some emergency cash on hand. Keep a little bit of cash somewhere on your person so that you have money if your bag or wallet gets lost or stolen.
14. Consider carrying a self-defense tool. Carrying a self-defense weapon is a very personal decision, but if it makes you feel safer, you may want to carry a Taser, pepper spray, or a knife. In some cases, even a flashlight can make an excellent self-defense tool.