BYU Nursing Professors Uncover Disturbing Trends in Dating App-Related Sexual Assault Cases – BYU News | Team Cansler

Research suggests that violent sex offenders use dating apps as hunting grounds for vulnerable victims.

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This article is about sexual assault. If you have survived sexual misconduct, BYU has extensive resources to help you:

Dating apps are now an integral part of American social life, but there is still work to be done to keep users safe. New BYU research suggests violent sex offenders use dating apps as hunting grounds for vulnerable victims.

In the largest study of its kind, a BYU nursing team analyzed the medical exam charts of sexual assault victims in Utah from 2017 to 2020. They found that 14% of the 1,968 rapes committed by acquaintances occurred during an initial encounter that was over a dating app was arranged. These cases stood out in disturbing ways: victims with mental illnesses and other vulnerabilities were targeted, and the attacks were significantly more violent.

“What we found is incredibly concerning,” said Julie Valentine, professor of nursing at BYU. “We had started to see an increase in victims reporting being raped after meeting someone on a dating app, and we wanted to know if rape facilitated by dating apps was replicated by others rapes by acquaintances distinguished. They are indeed very different.”

Previous research shows that people with a mental illness are already more likely to be victims of sexual assault. In the study, 47% of non-dating app rape victims reported a mental illness. Among those who were attacked during an initial meeting set up via an app, the number was much higher, with 60% reporting a mental illness.

“In a dating app, people can frame themselves however they want to target vulnerable victims. People with mental illnesses like depression may be more vulnerable to a predator who, for example, flatters them liberally and coaxes them into meeting in person,” Valentine said.

College students were also more likely to be victims of dating app-related assaults, and male victims were almost twice as likely to be victims of app-related assaults as they were of other acquaintance assaults.

Disturbingly, perpetrators of dating app-assisted rapes appeared to be unusually violent. The attacks caused more victim injuries than other acquaintance rapes; a quarter of the victims had chest injuries, for example. In addition, approximately 33% of victims reported being strangled during the attack, while 22% of victims who did not meet an abuser through an app for the first time reported strangulation.

Dating apps are fertile ground for predators in part because there are few ways for potential victims to screen potential partners.

“People used to meet through mutual friends, or at work or school, and there was a certain level of scrutiny before dating. Dating apps have completely taken that process away,” Valentine said.

The current security measure in dating apps — a written guide to safe dating — is inadequate because it puts the security burden on potential victims, the researchers argue. Victims may blame themselves for being tricked by a predator into not following guidelines to the letter, and their self-blame may prevent them from reporting the attack. Instead, the authors recommend dating app companies improve their security standards.

“Dating app companies can increase artificial intelligence to identify offenders, impose stricter identification requirements on users, conduct criminal history research at no extra charge, and network with other companies to ensure offenders don’t just hop from one app to the next. They can also improve the opportunities for victims to report assaults and provide more victim support services,” Valentine suggested.

These changes could be on the horizon. The BYU team worked with dating app companies and lawmakers to draft a Utah House bill sponsored by Rep. Angela Romero, “Safety Requirements for Online Dating,” to improve safety on dating apps . They believe the law has a good chance of being passed in the next legislature and hope other states will follow suit.

“What I don’t want people to take away from the study is that we shouldn’t be using dating apps — they’re the primary way happy couples meet. We want to preserve that, but increase security,” concludes Valentine.

The paper was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence and co-authored by BYU professor Leslie Miles, graduate student Kristen Hamblin, and undergraduate student Aubrey Worthen.

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