Safety first

Ramona Ramdeen, Police Reporter

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On Friday, the University of North Florida Police Department responded to a report of sexual assault in Osprey Cove.  The victim stated that she met the assailant on a dating app. 

Online dating is a popular and convenient way for college students to meet potential love interests. Dating apps allow you to search through a myriad of available singles and filter out the ones you have the most in common with very quickly. While they can be safe and successful sometimes, statistics show that there is a very real and very dangerous dark side to meeting people online.

According to InternetPredatorStatistics.com, internet predators commit more than 16,000 abductions, 100 murders and thousands of rapes each year, and these numbers continue to rise, especially among college students.  

Studies show that almost 50% of all sexual predators use online dating apps.

 According to a 2016 Consumer’s research study, 57% of women using online dating apps have reported being sexually harassed or assaulted, and those are only the ones that were reported. According to the Bureau of Justice about 65% of all rapes and sexual assaults go unreported.

Let’s be very clear, sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault, no matter the circumstance.

There is no question that precautions must be taken when dealing with strangers you have met online, be it Craigslist or Bumble. Here are a few ways to protect yourself from online predators:

Be honest with yourself. Don’t ignore any hesitancy or feelings of discomfort. You shouldn’t need to talk yourself into investing in a relationship with someone you haven’t met in person. Don’t let a charming stranger or single-too-long desperation convince you to deny your gut feelings about the stranger you’ve just met.

Tell your friends about the online relationship. Share details with your closest pals and ask them if they can identify any red flags. If they show concern, take that concern seriously.  Plan to meet in public or go on a group date with your friends the first time you meet. If you do plan to meet and be alone, give a friend specific details about the person and the date. Ask them to check on you at a designated time. Have a code word that you can text to a friend if you need them to call the police.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. People can create dream personas online. If your virtual date is a model-slash-anything, boasts about their huge luxury yacht and claims to have invented a billion-selling app, they’re probably lying. If anything sounds strange or unbelievable, ask questions. If the person is defensive or evasive, you’re likely on to something.

Fact-check. Don’t be afraid to Google someone you’ve just met online. If you met over Facebook, use Google’s “search by image” feature to check for multiple Facebook profiles using the same photo. If the person messaging you isn’t the only person claiming to have his face, you know you’re likely looking at a fake account.

Verify further. Even if your initial Google searches don’t bring up anything suspicious, or they do and you’re not sure what to do with the uncertainty, don’t hesitate to order a background check on the individual. If the person really has your best interests at heart, they won’t be hurt when they later discover that you took proactive steps to ensure you entered into a relationship carefully.

Protect yourself. Have privacy settings in place and be careful to not divulge too much personal information. Even if you’re chatting with someone who feels like an old friend, still treat them as a stranger — because they are. When you do eventually meet, do so in a public place. Don’t give out your address until you’re in an established, in-person relationship.

Be smart. Fake Facebook accounts usually have extremely low friend counts, photos with no tags in them (or no tags linking to actual Facebook pages) and photos that don’t include family members, friends, or everyday adventures. If every photo looks like it came straight from a modeling portfolio, raise that red flag.

Go slow. Beware of premature declarations of love or requests for risky photos from your online crush. Don’t fall too fast for someone you’ve never met. You don’t know who you’re actually falling for. If the person is genuine, they will not mind taking it slow, and will understand and even respect your caution.

Don’t be afraid to offend or make uncomfortable. If someone is pursuing you online, you have every right to ask as many questions as needed to put your mind at ease. It’s not unreasonable to request proof of hard-to-believe information. If they are who they claim, making you feel safe and secure will be a priority for them.

Finally, Chief Mackesy of the UNFPD also suggests:

 If you travel for a date, ALWAYS travel in a group with people you know.   

Should you decide to engage in sexual activity establish the rules in advance and come up with a trigger word to let your partner know to stop whatever they are doing at any time during the act.  NO means NO!

It is always better to be safe than sorry. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual harassment, do not let it go unreported. It can be a difficult thing to report, however, the information you provide could be the key to getting a predator off the streets.

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