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Sexual predators use dating apps to hunt for vulnerable victims: study

An “incredibly concerning” number of predators find their victims on dating apps, according to a new study.

Researchers from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah analyzed the records of almost 2000 sexual assault victims between 2017 and 2020, finding 14% of the attacks occurred after meeting on a dating app.

Dr. Julie Valentine of BYU said the results from the research — which was  — were “incredibly concerning,” finding an increase in victims reporting sexual assault after meeting someone on a dating app.

Another concerning trend was that the targeted victims often have mental illnesses and the attacks were significantly more violent.

“Those with mental illnesses like depression may be more susceptible to a predator who might, for example, flatter them profusely and persuade them to meet in person,” Valentine explained in a press release. “In a dating app, people can shape themselves however they want to appeal to vulnerable victims.”

Prior research shows that individuals with a mental illness are already more likely to be sexually assaulted.
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College students are the age group most likely to be targeted, with experts involved in the research calling the current safety measures on dating apps — a written statement — inadequate.

According to Valentine, dating apps have taken out the screening process that takes place when you meet someone in real life, which makes them a potential “breeding ground.”

“It used to be that people would meet through mutual friends or at work or school, and there was a degree of vetting that went in place before dating,” she pointed out. “Dating apps have completely taken away that process.”

BYU nursing professor Julie Valentine said they started to see an increase of victims reporting being raped after meeting someone on a dating app.
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The study’s authors recommend that dating app companies improve their safety standards and have begun drafting a bill in Utah, called Online Dating Safety Requirements in collaboration with dating apps and legislators. Valentine and her team at BYU hope if it passes, other states in the US will do the same.

Valentine recommended that dating apps also increase artificial intelligence to identify potential perpetrators on the apps, as well as search criminal records and communicate with other dating apps to weed out serial offenders.

Despite the shocking information from the study, Valentine says she doesn’t want people to stop using dating apps — she just wants them to have more safety precautions.

“They’re the number-one way that happy couples meet,” she said. “We want to preserve that but increase the safety.”