Wiltshire Police are highlighting the dangers of using online dating as their popularity grows.
Although the warning has not been explicitly issued to the LGBTQ+ community, this emerging threat appears to be down to the increasing popularity of online dating combined with the behaviours and expectations adopted by an online environment.
This week we are encouraging users of online dating apps and websites to take precautions when meeting strangers face-to-face.
Nationally, there has been a rise in the number of crimes associated with online dating apps and websites. The National Crime Agency (NCA) figures show 184 people made allegations they were raped by someone they met online in 2014 – up from 33 in 2009.
ACC Mark Cooper, Chief Officer Lead for Crime, Justice and Vulnerability at Wiltshire Police, said: “The rising popularity of online dating apps and websites has, unsurprisingly, contributed to an increase in the number of recorded crimes.
“Even if you feel you have become closer to someone via email, text messaging or phone calls, you should still remember that this person is largely a stranger to you.
“It is therefore vital that when meeting someone new in person, you take precautions, agree on what you both want from the date and don’t feel pressured to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.
“Individuals should stop all communication with anyone who attempts to pressurise them into something they do not wish to do. If this happens then you should contact the dating app provider immediately with your concerns and always report to the police if any criminal activity takes place.
“If you are a victim of rape or sexual assault and it has occurred recently, you should call 999 so it can be dealt with urgently and effectively as possible. If it has not happened recently, we would still like to speak to you – please call 101”.
Angus Macpherson, Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said: “We now live in a world where people interact and meet each other online, but this has its dangers.
“Although going on a date with someone new is an exciting step in a relationship, people must remain vigilant as you don’t know who that person ‘really’ is.
“No matter what the circumstances, sexual activities against your will is a crime, and my strongly-held view remains that it’s not ok to blame the victim whether a man or woman.
“Should the worst ever happen, support is available. I was proud to be at the re-launch of the First Light Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in February this year and to witness first-hand the superb support the doctors, nurses and crisis workers provide to survivors of rape and sexual abuse”.
If you are a victim of rape or sexual assault and it has occurred recently, you should call 999 so it can be dealt with as urgently and effectively as possible.
If it has not happened recently, Wiltshire Police would still like to speak to you – please call 101.
If you know someone that has been the victim of rape or sexual assault, you can also report it by calling 101.
Alternatively, you can call the First Light SARC on 01793 781916 or by visiting www.firstlight.org.uk/contact-us/.