In the United States, 44% of adults are single – with 40 million Americans using online dating services.
Although online dating may be a relatively new concept, dating itself is an age-old method of getting to know someone before committing to anything more serious. But with the growth of the Internet, new technologies, chat facilities, and the acceptance of meeting people online, there has also been a rise in the number of risks people are exposing themselves to.
In this guide, we’ll explore the potential dangers of dating before offering some helpful tips on how you can stay safe when meeting someone online or going on a date for the first time. We’ll also include some apps that help you date safely, and additional resources you can explore for more sound advice.
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Statistics About the Dangers of Dating
Cast your mind back 50 years, and you’d find singletons donning their best suits and dancing shoes, cruising around discos and bars to find “the one.” However, today, only 9% of women and 2% of men find a long-lasting relationship in a bar.
Instead, 63% of married couples say they met each other through a friend, while 27% of 18- to 24-year-olds have turned to online dating (an increase from 10% in 2013). A sign of the times, perhaps?
However, with this growth of online dating and meeting people you’ve never met (and neither have your family or friends) comes risks, which are added to with other risks many people who are dating face, particularly if they’re teenagers.
Here are some statistics about the risks and threats posed by dating:
Dating Abuse in Adults
- Every minute, 24 people in the US are a victim of stalking, physical violence, or rape by their intimate partner
- 29% of women and 10% of men have experienced stalking, physical violence and/or rape by a partner
- Nearly 50% of men and women in the US have experienced psychological aggression at some point in their life by an intimate partner (48.8% and 48.4% respectively)
- From 2009 to 2014, the number of people being raped in the UK after meeting someone online increased six-fold
- At the time of a sexual assault, between 25% and 50% of the perpetrators will have consumed alcohol
Teenagers and Adolescents
- Every year, physical abuse is suffered by almost 1.5 million high school students from their dating partner
- A third of adolescents in the US are a victim of verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse at the hands of their dating partner (far outweighing any other forms of youth violence)
- A tenth of high school students have been purposefully slapped, hit, or physically hurt by their girlfriend or boyfriend
- Girls and young women between 16- and 24-years-old account for the highest rate of intimate partner violence (this is almost three times the national average)
- 43% of women who are dating at college report experiencing abusive and violent dating behaviors
- When it comes to dating abuse, college students aren’t able to deal with it, with 58% saying they don’t know what to do to help someone going through abuse and 57% saying it’s difficult to identify it
- 16% of college women in a dating relationship have been sexually abused
- Only 33% of teens have told someone about the abuse they suffered when they’ve been in a violent relationship
- A study in Hong Kong found those using dating apps were twice as likely to be sexually abused than non-users
- 14% of women and 4% of men report being sexually assaulted while being incapacitated
- Before an incident of unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault in college, 62% of students had been drinking alcohol
- 53% of people admit to lying on their online dating profile – men tend to add up to two inches to their height while women take around 10 pounds off their weight
- 42% of women and 17% of men have had a bad experience with online dating
- 28% of online daters have felt uncomfortable or harassed by the way they’ve been contacted by someone on a dating app or online
- 10% of sex offenders use online dating to meet new people
- 53% of people say they’ve dated more than one person at the same time
- In 2016, the number of cases of romance scams or confidence fraud reached almost 15,000 (a rise in 2,500 cases from 2015) with the losses from these scams exceeding $230 million
- The average financial loss from an online dating scam ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 but many victims have lost as much as $400,000
Top Tips for Staying Safe on Your Date
Even though the above statistics make for worrying reading, it shouldn’t stop you from going out there and meeting people. Instead, they should just emphasize how important it is to remain vigilant at all times during the dating process – no matter how long you’ve known the person for.
To stay safe, there are a number of things you can do:
- Always Keep Friends and Family Up to Date – Never go on a date with someone without telling a loved one where you’re going, who with (even giving them your date’s name and number), and what time they should expect you home. If something does change while you’re out, be sure to update them straight away.
- Use Your Own Transport – This is particularly important if you’re meeting someone you don’t know, and it could save your life. Get in your own car or Uber it so you have a quick escape route if things aren’t going to plan – and it means your date won’t know your home address.
- Meet in a Mutual, Safe Environment – As fun as it may be to “Netflix and chill” with someone you can’t wait to meet, it’s not a good idea to go to someone’s house if you don’t know them. Always meet them in a public place (a coffee shop or restaurant you’re familiar with, for example) where you know there’ll be plenty of people around. This not only reduces your risk of finding yourself in an unsafe situation but it also means other people may remember seeing you at this location if something does go wrong.
- Never Leave Your Drink or Food Unattended – Although you might need to powder your nose or ring your friend to tell them how hot your date is, never leave your food or drink unattended when you first meet someone. Roofies (Rohypnol) and GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) are common date rape drugs and are colorless and odorless, which makes them hard to detect. Once consumed, they make you feel incredibly disorientated, so always watch your drink being made by the bartender, never accepting something you aren’t sure about.
- Limit Your Alcohol Intake – As much as the above date rape drugs are an issue, the number one date rape drug is alcohol. So, limit yourself to a couple of drinks at the most while you’re out with someone. Alcohol can lower your inhibitions and make you more susceptible to a predator’s motives – e.g. taking you away from the public place you’ve met in.
- Organize a Group Date – Although this might not be possible, going on a group date can significantly reduce the risks of meeting someone you don’t know. If you can, take your mate along with you so you’ve got two pairs of eyes on drinks etc. Plus, you’ll have their second opinion on whether your date is worth seeing again or not.
- Take Some Protection with You – Even though a third of singletons have had sex BEFORE their first date, the protection we’re referring to isn’t just condoms. Rather, we’re talking about good, old-fashioned pepper spray. OK, so this may seem a little over the top, but having that reassurance when you’re heading out on a first date will make sure you’re prepared for all eventualities.
- Don’t Tell Any Lies – We’ve already seen how common it is for people to lie on their online dating profiles, but try to refrain from overselling yourself on your dating app or site. Sharing pictures that are years old or elaborating the truth isn’t impressive when the real you comes out and could lead to aggressive or angry behaviors from your date.
- Focus on the Here and Now – When we’re dating, it’s easy to get carried away, especially when we really like someone. Are they “the one,” have you found the father of your unborn child, and will you finally be walking down the aisle… Don’t let your thoughts run away with themselves and focus on getting to know the person first. Lust can often cloud our initial judgments, so try to use some caution, especially on the first few dates.
- Do a Google Search – Finally, if all else fails, do a Google search for your date. Find some questionable information or start to get a bad feeling about them? Then it’s probably worth ditching this person before you get yourself into a sticky situation. Don’t forget to check out LinkedIn and Facebook pages, too, just to make sure they are who they say they are (and if they’ve only got one or two friends on these pages, that should tell you something as well).
Top Tips for Staying Safe When Dating Online
By 2040, it’s anticipated that 70% of us will have met “the one” online, and one study revealed that online dating leads to happier, longer marriages. So things ain’t all bad in the world of online dating!
However, along with the above tips, there are a few extra steps you can take to stay safe:
- Choose an Anonymous Username – Never include your surname or any other personal information in the username of your profile.
- Never Reveal Your Personal Information – You may need to give out your contact number and name when you decide to meet someone but try to limit how often you do this. You can always contact them on the site until you feel comfortable you know who they are – and if you do want to give out an email address, think about setting up a specific “dating email address” they can contact you through, making sure no personal details (i.e. your surname) are included in the address.
- Trust Your Gut Instinct – If, during your chats online, something makes you question your potential date or they say something inappropriate, listen to your gut instinct. Anything that rings alarm bells should be taken seriously.
- Speak to Them on the Phone – Firing emails and chat messages back and forth can be exhilarating but it doesn’t often give you a good overview of a person – and it doesn’t confirm they are who they say they are. So, before you meet them in person, ask to speak to them on the phone first. Practice your banter and get chatting.
- Be Mindful of Unusual Language – Unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers out there, which is why you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for any unusual language your online daters are using. When their English sounds broken, think about those dodgy “Nigerian prince” emails we’ve all received and delete the contact.
- Look for Mutual Friends on Facebook – Once you know the name of your potential date, search for them on Facebook to see if you’ve got any mutual friends. If you have, consider contacting this mutual friend to see what they think to your date. Having someone’s second opinion can really boost your confidence and give you the reassurance you need that this is a legitimate person who doesn’t have a chequered past.
- Delete and Block Anyone You’re Not Sure Of – If you start to feel uneasy about someone, block and delete them from your profile. Receive an inappropriate or abusive message? Report them straight away.
- Be Wary of Scammers – If someone declares their love for you a little too quickly or they ask you for money (or offer you money for that fact), be very wary. These are common behaviors of scammers and there’s only one thing they’re after – money. As hard as it may be, always hold back when you meet someone and try not to fall for any cliched sob stories. And never give out your bank details.
- Take Your Time – It’s difficult to know how quickly you should arrange to meet up with someone you’ve met online, which is why there’s no given rule as to how long you should leave it before you arrange your first date. However, a study suggests you shouldn’t wait too long. American researchers found that, after the first message is sent, the tipping point for your first meeting comes at around 17 to 23 days into your conversation. The longer the respondents of the survey waited, the more disappointed they were with their first date.
- Tread Carefully with Long-Distance Rendezvous – Due to the large number of people around the world who are dating online, it’s highly likely you could meet someone who’s not from your neck of the woods. Therefore, when you do decide to meet, you may be staying away from home. And if you are, always stay in a hotel rather than at your date’s house or somewhere they recommend. Never meet at this hotel and don’t tell the person where you’re staying.
Top Tools Apps for Dating Safely
Thankfully, a number of companies have made it much easier for you to date safely, whether they help you check out how legitimate someone is or reassure you that you’ll be safe on your date.
Here’s our top pick of dating tools:
TinEye – A lot of scammers will try and be clever with the photos they use, often stealing them from Facebook. So, use TinEye to search for this image on the Internet to see where else it’s appearing. If you see a result that suggests your hot date isn’t who he said he is, proceed with caution, they’ve probably created a catfish profile. You can also use Google’s Reverse Image Checker in much the same way.
Pipl – As the largest people search engine, Pipl allows you to find out what person’s behind a phone number, social username, or email address. It can be incredibly accurate but can also pull up other potential profiles (especially if someone has the same name or a similar social username to someone else), so don’t jump to conclusions straight away if you can’t find the person you’re looking for.
Find My Friends App – This app allows you to track people through their phone, and while this might sound uber-stalkerish, it’s a great way of making sure you and your friends are safe. Install this on your phone before you go on a date and make sure your friend or family member can track you at all times. That way, they’ll be able to see you are where you should be – and can always book a cab if you need them to in an emergency.
Watch Over Me App – Available for free on Android and Apple devices, this app is turned on when you aren’t feeling safe. All you need to do is switch it on, specify how long you want the app to watch you for, share some details, and then tell the app when you’re safe. If you don’t hit the “I’m Safe” button before the end of your specified time, the app will notify your loved ones. They’ll be given your precise location along with any videos or pictures you’ve uploaded.
And if you aren’t able to call someone when you are in danger, you can shake the phone to activate alerts to your emergency contacts. It’ll even notify you when you’re entering a high-crime area!
Whitepages – If you get hold of your date’s phone number, you can do a check on Whitepages to see if their name matches what they’ve given you. Just use the reverse phone search to find out more information about the person who has that mobile number. You can also search by their name and state/city.
Scam Digger – Look through a list of online profiles that have been found to be scams.
Email Address of Scammers – On datingnmore.com you can see a list of email addresses that have been flagged as scammers.
CriminalCheck.com – When you’re really unsure about someone, you can use this website to do a national search for sex offenders. This is free to do and all you need is a name and zip code.
Want to read more about dating safely or need some advice on how to protect your teen in the dating world? These further resources are jam-packed full of useful information:
Dating for Dummies Cheat Sheet – Here you’ll not only find tips for making safe connections online but advice on how to ask for a first date, too. It also includes some tips on how to flirt on your first date and how to date with confidence.
Staying Safe in Relationships – Produced by the NOAA Workforce Management Office, this relationship safety guide shows you how to stay safe in relationships. It also provides some safe dating tips for teens, which are great for parents, too.
How to Protect Your Online Dating Profile – This guide provides some incredibly useful tips on how you can protect your online profile from hackers and stalkers. It includes things you need to look out for, how to protect your images, and the importance of not oversharing your information.
How to Use the Internet to Investigate Your Next Date – If you think you need to play detective, this guide tells you just how to do this. It offers great tips on where you can check out how legitimate someone is without them knowing.
How to Spot a Dating Scam – Wary about being caught up in an online dating scam? This guide tells you what warning signs there may be, what communication issues to look out for, and when to delete this contact from your profile.
A Mom’s Guide to Protecting A Teenager When They’re Dating – Because dating has changed so dramatically since most parents were teenagers themselves, it can be difficult to relate to the experiences teenagers are going through. This guide explains some of the ways things have changed and how, as a Mom, you can deal with these and protect your child.
Protecting Teens from Abusive Relationships and Teen Violence – As a parent, you don’t want to think about worst-case scenarios, but it’s important to be clued up so you can protect your child. This guide explains the risks of teenage relationships, the warning signs your teen may be in an abusive relationship, and how to effectively help your child.
Which? Guide to Staying Safe on Dating Websites and Apps – Read advice on how to stay safe while online dating. You’ll also find some helpful information on how to spot and report fake online profiles (in the UK).
Poll: College Sexual Assault – For more statistics on the growing issue of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact in college, read this article by the Washington Post. It revealed that a fifth of women report having been sexually assaulted while at college.