Breaking Free: Some abusers using dating apps as increasingly popular way to meet victims, studies show

HOUSTON – In this day and age, many people looking for love turn to dating apps, but sometimes the outcome may not be what was expected.

No, we’re not talking about just finding out you’re incompatible. Sometimes, what seems like it could be a fairy tale romance ends up an abusive nightmare.

“I kept telling him, I was like ‘no.’ I made it clear I am not trying to do anything with you tonight,” said a woman who we are not identifying.

She says she and her friend were both sexually assaulted during a double date.

She says her friend met her date through Instagram. During their first outing, she says her friend’s date invited his friend along so that she could come, too.

“Both my friend and I had like a couple of drinks that they had bought us,” the woman said.

She believes the drinks were laced and says, by the end of the night, they were both taken back to her friend’s date’s home, and sexually assaulted.

“He chose to come and lay down right next to me and then I was feeling really uncomfortable, and he kept getting close to me and like, still touching me and like pulling my pants down,” she said.

Emerging statistics throughout the country point to a disturbing trend. The nursing team at Brigham Young University in Utah analyzed sexual assault victims’ medical exam charts from 2017-2020. Research found out of 1,968 rapes were committed by acquaintances; 14 percent happened during the first meetup arranged through a dating app.

The study shows that victims with mental illnesses and other vulnerabilities were the most targeted, and the attacks were significantly more violent.

“You don’t know why people, like, contact you on social media apps, or like dating apps. You don’t know what the intentions are behind it,” the victim said.

Dr Khara Breeden is the Founder and CEO of Texas Forensic Nurse Examiners Forensic Center of Excellence in Houston.

“(We offer) counseling as a service, legal advocacy to help them through the legal process if that’s something that they’re choosing to do and, really innovative, we’ve started the first adult forensic interviewing program,” said Dr Breeden.

In January alone, Dr Breeden says the center saw 160 sexual assault victims, and a little more than one in 10 met through an app or dating site - proof it’s becoming an increasingly common form of meeting people.

“I think there are real relationships that are being built through this online communication and I think it’s real. I think people do develop real connections with people. I think people have to know that there are risks involved,” Dr Breeden said.

Heather Bellino is the CEO of Texas Advocacy Project, which provides free civil, legal and social remedies for sexual assault survivors.

“There is conversation around the new landscape of dating and how do you keep yourself safe. And it’s unfortunate that it’s about how do you keep yourself safe when the perpetration should not happen in the first place,” Bellino said. “Whether it’s through a dating app or not, there are people out to do harm and we as individuals can only do so much to protect ourselves,” she said. Bellino adds there are some concrete ways you can try to prevent becoming a victim.

“Make sure that somebody else knows where you’re going. You meet in a public place. You spend weeks before you go somewhere alone with your beau or love interest,” Bellino said.

Both Bellino and Dr. Breeden say those looking to date need to understand behaviors that are indicators of future violence.

“It’s all about power and control and so yes, it can be coercion, it can be belittling, it can be emotional, and then it moves to physical,” she explained.

Advocates say abusers may suppress behaviors they think others could see as red flags. They want victims to know it’s never their fault and there is help out there.

“Blaming yourself for it or, trying to place the blame on yourself… it definitely wasn’t your fault,” said the victim who spoke with us.

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Breaking Free: Some abusers using dating apps as increasingly popular way to meet victims, studies show

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