Since lockdown dating sites have become pretty much the only way to date for millions of people across the world.
So it will come as no shock to some that today NCA data shows that the number of female victims of online dating-related sexual assaults aged 19 and under has increased since 2016.
The NCA’s Serious Crime Analysis Section (SCAS), which supports police investigations into serious sexual assaults committed by strangers, released the new figures today (24 February).
SCAS reviewed data from 671 sexual assault cases reported to the NCA, which occurred between 1 April 2003 and 21 March 2021 following a first face-to-face meeting, after initial contact via an online dating website or app.
These update the findings of a 2016 report, which examined the 163 cases identified between April 2003 and July 2015.
The new data shows that while the levels of this type of offending has remained fairly stable since 2015, the proportion of reports from female victims aged 19 and under rose from 12% to 22%, with the proportion of male victims in this bracket rising from 25% to 31%.
The largest proportion of both male and female victims were still aged 20-29, accounting for 40% of cases.
The victims in 83% of the 671 cases were female, 17% were male; a slight change from the previous report with a 2% increase in the proportion of male victims.
Only offending on SCAS databases has been analysed. It doesn’t include unreported incidents or offences which police forces have not sent to the NCA to be examined.
Louise Vesely-Shore, Principal Analyst in the National Crime Agency’s SCAS team, said: “Although there hasn’t been an overall increase in these offences since our initial report in 2016, it is notable that this form of crime continued during the pandemic, despite the substantial restrictions on people’s lives.
“A sexual assault victim is never at fault and we do not want the circumstances in which these attacks take place to cause anyone to doubt that. We want victims to feel confident reporting it to the police.”
The NCA published its findings alongside separate research collated by the BBC for its documentary, ‘Dating’s Dangerous Secrets’. This showed that 37% of dating app users have reported someone for inappropriate behaviour, 63% have felt uncomfortable on a date initiated via a dating app and 33% have experienced either harassment or abuse on such dates.
Louise Vesely-Shore added: “Anyone dating online should be aware of the potential dangers, so they can be better prepared and make the choices that are right for them.
“We want people to protect themselves when meeting someone in person for the first time, as well as deter would be offenders from committing these types of crimes.”
Although there was an overall reduction in all types of offences reported to SCAS during the pandemic, incidents associated with online dating appear to have been less impacted. For example, in the financial year 2020/21, SCAS reviewed nearly 10 times as many cases of internet dating sexual offences compared to bogus taxi driver sexual offences.
The NCA is currently working with academics from the University of Birmingham to further explore the impact of the pandemic on stranger sexual offending generally.
The following safety advice was previously developed by the NCA along with Get Safe Online for users of online dating websites.
Dating Online? Play it safe when you meet face-to-face
- Plan it. Say it. Do it.
It’s your date. Agree on what you both want from it before you meet up. Don’t feel pressured to meet before you’re ready or for any longer than you’re comfortable with – a short first date is fine.
- Meet in public. Stay in public.
The safest plan is to meet somewhere public and stay somewhere public. Make your own way there and back and don’t feel pressured to go home with your date. If you feel ready to move to a private environment, make sure your expectations match your date’s.
- Get to know the person, not the profile.
The way people interact online isn’t always the same face-to-face. Don’t be offended if your date is more guarded when meeting in person or if things don’t progress as fast face-to-face.
- Not going well? Make your excuses and leave.
Don’t feel bad about cutting a date short if you’re not keen. You don’t owe the other person anything, no matter how long you’ve been chatting or what’s been suggested.
- If you’re raped or sexually assaulted on your date, help is available.
No matter what the circumstances, sexual activity against your will is a crime. Police and charities are here to help and support you.
Readily accessible information for victims of sexual assault, however recent, can be found at: https://sexualabusesupport.campaign.gov.uk. It hopes to help individuals make informed decisions about next steps in seeking support and to empower them with a view to ultimately increasing levels of reporting.