Five Metres Away
They’re fun, exciting and convenient. But hook up apps also come with risks, as one user tells Queensland Pride. Anthony Smith reports.
It was Good Friday and Jay was bored. In search of amusement and company, he logged onto gay hook up app, Grindr.
“I chatted to a few guys,” Jay tells Queensland Pride. “One sent me some photos and he looked cute.” As the conversation with the man developed, Jay invited him around for some ‘fun’.
But from the get-go, things didn’t feel quite right.
“I answered the door and felt this guy is dodgy or high or something and I felt like turning him away,” Jay says. “But he was here and he was semi-cute so...”
After being in Jay’s apartment for a short time, the guy let himself out to meet a friend but he never returned. Jay just assumed he had simply flaked and left.
Then Jay noticed some of his possessions were missing.
Disturbed, Jay shared his experience on Facebook and was soon flooded with messages from people who had undergone the same thing with the same person. After that, Jay contacted the police.
It’s a troubling story and one that is certainly not isolated.
The issues of safety and crime underscore every social or sexual encounter, especially in the context of ‘hooking up’. But they have been magnified with the advent of online dating. More recently, these issues have been put into sharper focus with popularity of smart phone apps, many of which have functions that broadcasts people’s locations.
The most recent incident involved a Sydney man who was bound for six hours by a suitor he met on a gay app. The man’s phone, car and bank cards were stolen. Later, it was revealed the attacker was on day release from a psychiatric facility just before the encounter. He was being treated after being found not guilty of killing a man because of a psychotic illness.
For Jay, becoming a victim of a crime through an app was an eye-opener.
“It was just a bit of a full on experience from just wanting a bit of fun,” he says. “I know that you should meet in a cafe or something before but if I want to get off, I do not want to meet and have a cappuccino.”
Jay’s experience, among others, prompted LGBT groups and media outlets at the time to issue alerts about exercising caution and safety when meeting others online.
And it’s an issue that is foremost on Grindr’s agenda.
“We encourage all our users to use common sense when interacting with others on Grindr just like you would meeting a stranger on any other website, social network or out at a live venue,” a spokesperson told Queensland Pride. “Specifically, we encourage our users to read the seven key safety tips that we’ve developed.” Available on their website as well as on the app, these tips include information on safeguarding one’s identity, safety strategies when using the app and ways to protect yourself when pursuing an encounter.
The sentiments are echoed by Queensland Police, who told Queensland Pride that criminals often use sites and applications as a way to make contact with potential victims.
“People using such sites and applications should be aware of their personal safety at all times, and exercise caution when meeting an ‘online friend’ for the first time,” a spokesperson said. “The Queensland Police Service would encourage anybody inviting strangers into their homes to be particularly vigilant and cautious.”
Queensland Police encourage all those affected by theft or harassment from online encounters to file a report with them by calling 131 444.
GRINDR’S 7 SAFETY TIPS
Protect Your Identity
Most people would not tell their name, phone number, email and other personal information to a complete stranger so be wary or posting this info on your profile. Protecting your identity is the best move you can make when chatting on Grindr.
Don't Believe Everything You See
A picture can't always be trusted; the person may have taken someone else's photo or found one somewhere.
Don't rush into things
Do not be rushed, and do not rush the other person. Only share your location when you feel confortable, don't feel pressured if they already sent you theirs. Only meet when you both are comfortable with each other.
Honesty is the best policy
If you start out lying, you will be caught, eventually. Do not bait and switch, it's the surest way for things to end badly.
Tell a friend
Make sure someone knows whom you are meeting, where you are going and when you are coming back. Store all of the conversations, and let your friend know where to find them.
Report any attacks or threats to law enforcement
If things go wrong, whether you followed the rules or not, do not be embarrassed to go to the police. Give them all the facts. If you do not report this person, they in all likelihood will do it again. You are allowed to say "no" and have it respected. If anything goes wrong, it is not your fault.
Always go with your gut instinct
Don’t ignore your instincts. Your first instinct is usually the best one to go by. Don’t go against your feelings, listen to them. If your gut tells you that something is wrong, cut it short and get out of there. It is always better to be safe than sorry.