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Online-dating related rape increases

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online dating, rape figures, meeting in private spaces, NCA reportThe number of reports has risen from 33 in 2009 to 184 in 2014.

Figures released recently show there has been a six-fold increase in reports of online-dating related rape offences over a 5-year period, according to analysts.

The National Crime Agency’s Serious Crime Analysis Section (SCAS), which supports police investigations into serious sexual assaults committed by strangers, identified an increase in the number of people who were raped during their first face-to-face meeting following initial contact through an online dating website or app.

The number of reports has risen from 33 in 2009 to 184 in 2014.

Eighty-five per cent of the victims were women and 15 per cent were men.

Of the men, 25 per cent of victims were aged between 15 and 19.

Forty-two per cent of female victims were in the 20-29 age groups, 24 cent were from the 40-49 age group.

Sean Sutton, head of the Serious Crimes Analysis Section, said further work was needed before potential reasons for the increase were fully understood, but the team was considering whether these could include:

The fact that people feel protected online, and their communication can escalate rapidly to become sexual in nature, leading to mismatched expectations when they meet for the first time;

Deliberate targeting of online sites and apps by offenders who intend to commit sexual assault – there was some evidence of coercion and persuasion being used by offenders to encourage (often reluctant) victims to meet sooner than they would like, and 43 per cent of first face-to-face meetings took place within one week of the initial contact being made online;

Victims having more confidence to report assaults to the police; and

Whether more people are spending time in private on a first date and so putting themselves at risk – 41 per cent of victims had spent time in private on their first date. In total, 71 per cent of the rapes that occurred on the first face-to-face meeting following online contact were committed at the victim’s or offender’s residence.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) team is also looking at the differences between perpetrators who met their victims online and other sexual offenders. For example, the former appear significantly less likely than other sexual offenders to have a previous criminal conviction.

Figures say that 84 per cent of people convicted of stranger rape have previous convictions, typically for serious offences that are not of a sexual nature.

For those suspected of stranger rape where the contact is initiated online, that figure falls to 49 per cent – alongside a decrease in the severity of the crime previously committed.

Sutton said: “More than nine million Britons have logged on to online dating sites, and the majority have found that they are a convenient and safe environment to find a relationship.

“This initial work clearly raises a lot of questions and we will be working with academia to build a more complete picture.

“ However this will take time and we wanted to release our headline findings at the earliest opportunity.

“Our aim here is to make people aware of the potential danger, so they can be better prepared and make the choices that are right for them.

“A rape victim is never at fault and we do not want the circumstances in which these assaults take place to cause any victim to doubt that.

“Sexual assault is a crime, full stop, and we want victims to feel confident reporting it to the police.”

Martin Hewitt, from the National Police Chief’s Council, said: “Regardless of the circumstances, sexual activity against your will is a crime.

“The Serious Crime Analysis Section works together with every police force in the country ensuring that victims are supported when they take the difficult step in coming forward to report these serious offences.”

The NCA published its findings along with new guidance to help users of online dating sites and apps reduce their personal risk.

Get Safe Online recommends the following safety advice for online dating:

1. 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.

2. 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 those of your date.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. If you are 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.

If you need help, contact Rape Crisis or The Survivors Trust; or for more information and advice, including other charities and support groups, click here.

To read the National Crime Agency’s full report, click here.

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