Dating apps and websites are now used by millions of people looking to meet others. Research carried out by TSB in February 2017 found that 33% of adults in the UK have used them.
Apps and sites such as Tinder, Match.com, Plenty of Fish and Grindr can often break-down the traditional barriers people face when trying to meet others and, for many, are the start of relationships.
Online dating, whilst generally relatively safe, can create risks. In Gloucestershire and nationally we have seen a rise in the number of sexual assaults taking place after the victim has met someone they found online for the first time.
Ask for Angela was initially set up by Lincolnshire Safer Communities, Sexual Violence and Abuse Partnership. In Gloucestershire, it is a joint initiative by Gloucestershire Constabulary, Gloucestershire Office of the Police & Crime Commissioner, Gloucester Licensed Victuallers Association and Gloucestershire Rape and Sexual Assault Centre (GRASAC) aimed to help anyone on a date who feels uncomfortable or threatened. All they need to do is say "is Angela in?" to bar staff who will then help the person leave the premises discreetly and, if needs be, call them a taxi.
There are a number of venues in the county signed up the scheme, you can find a list here but the scheme also exists in a number of other areas.
To help protect you if you use online dating services, we have created the following advice:
When meeting someone you only know online for the first time:
- Always arrange to meet in a public place - The National Crime Agency published a report in 2016 that showed that 72% of all sexual offences took place at the victim's or offender's residence. Females made up 85% of the victims and males 15%.
- Remember familiarity does not mean safety - Talking online often increases trust and intimacy but they are still a stranger. Television shows like MTV's Catfish highlights just how easily you can be persuaded into trusting someone you've never actually met.
- Get as much information upfront as possible - Find out their full name, age, mobile number, where they live and where they work if you can.
- Research them - Use a search engine to find out more about them. Most people have a Digital Footprint of some kind. Do they have social media profiles? If so, what are their online likes, who do they associate with?
- Tell others - Let someone know where you're going and who you're meeting, either by writing this down or sending it via a text.
- Tell the other person what you're expecting - Be clear about what they should expect; you could believe you're going for drinks and food whereas they could believe you may want to have sex when you don't.
- Choose your meeting place carefully - It may be useful to choose a place which operates the 'Ask for Angela' scheme, of which there are a number in Gloucestershire (Link to Safer Gloucestershire page)
- Travel separately and don’t feel pressured to go somewhere private – If you’re not comfortable, don’t agree to go somewhere private. End the meeting and leave alone, using the ‘Ask for Angela’ initiative if you need to.
Consent – only you have the right to choose
Here is a short video that explains consent in practical terms.
What to do if you or someone you know has become a victim of sexual assault
If you become a victim of a sexual assault it can be difficult to know what to do next. Support is available for you. If you’ve been sexually assaulted it isn’t your fault and you won’t be blamed. No-one has the right to do this to you.
We work with partners such as the Gloucestershire Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (GRASAC), the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), and the NHS to listen to and support you through this.
Please visit this page to see exactly the steps you need to take to get the support you need.
Please don’t go through this in silence. Always tell someone.