The internet has long changed the game for romantic dating — not to mention casual hookups. Since the explosive rise of Tinder in 2012, dating apps have become a permanent fixture in our social landscape. Popular apps come and go, but the concept of finding love (and satisfying lust) online is here to stay.
An often-overlooked hazard of online dating
Tinder — and spinoffs like Grindr, Skout, MeetMe and Kik — offer not only opportunity, but also risk. Headlines about the hazards of online dating often focus on predators. Innocent young victims get swept up by sex offenders posing as their peers. And while predators do exploit these apps to find and groom victims, another troubling reality involves well-meaning people — often young men — who end up branded as sex offenders because the “victims” lied about their age.
How can you know that the lovely-looking blonde who claims to be 18 isn’t actually 14? It’s an age-old feature of the internet that not everything is as it seems. According to one study, more than half of online dating profiles contain lies. Dating apps in particular are rife with underage users.
Those most at risk of stumbling into statutory rape are younger men, in their late teens or 20s, who connect with teenage girls pretending to be older. In that age range, even a year or two can mean the difference between consensual sex and statutory rape.
Case in point: Several years ago, a 19-year-old was convicted of criminal sexual conduct — and condemned to spend 25 years as a registered sex offender — after sleeping with a 14-year-old girl he met through a dating app. The girl had claimed to be 17 years old. Countless others have found themselves in similar situations: facing felony charges, forced to register as a sex offender, their lives and futures devastated.
A problem with no clear solution
Dating apps themselves are a big part of the problem. They require little — if any — age verification. Most “authenticate” user information through Facebook, which makes it easy to fake any identity. Thanks to privacy concerns and technology hurdles, it’s challenging to root out “catfish” — those who deliberately assume false identities for nefarious purposes. It’s even harder to catch users who merely fudge their age by a few years.
So how can users stay out of trouble?
Be careful. Don’t assume your potential date is telling the truth about their age. Don’t be afraid to ask to see an ID. As unromantic as that sounds, it’s better than spending time behind bars. And if you have any doubt whatsoever, don’t go through with it. The risk simply isn’t worth the reward.