As technology has changed and become more portable and pocketable, our interactions with people have also drastically changed. We spend more time looking down at our apps than we do paying attention to where we are walking. We talk to people through messengers and apps more than we do face to face, leaving verbal communication painfully awkward at times. This has also forced a shift in the dating scene to catch up with how we interact with people now. Gone are the days of meeting and talking to someone in a bar or public place, instead we navigate those by how close they are to us and whether we would swipe left or right on them. That only leaves the struggle of talking to them once we have met them. How do we navigate this modern dating drama? What has changed and what should we be mindful of when scrolling through our many apps.
Modern dating and sexual encounters started to change with the inception of Craigslist personals and online sex sites. It created a forum for us to share some of the darker and freakier sides of our nature and look for people that may share them. It also gave a means for many people who were still living in the closet a way to meet others for random hook ups or “dates”. Simply fill out an ad, post it, and wait for the responses to fill your inbox. Once you have filtered through all of the messages you picked out a few that seemed to be of interest and proceed from there. This all went well until the Craigslist killer, Phillip Markoff, changed that scene forever. After his arrest the website quickly disbanded their personals section. This led the masses to find yet other places to fulfill their needs. A spike in dating apps began and here we are now.
Grindr, Growlr, Scruff, Her, Bumble, Tinder, OkCupid, and the list goes on. We have all seen them, know someone who uses them, or, in fact, use them ourselves. Log in and you see a grid of people close by or, as some apps do, show you one pic at a time where you get to audition them and decide if they are cute or not by a simple swipe. Each app boasts it’s on specific set of options and almost all of them work based off of GPS location. Giving you an idea of who is next to you and when, combine that with a picture and you have the best way to see someone with whom you may cross paths almost daily. For those of us that fall a bit more on the introverted side, this gives us a means to meet people and break the ice before we actually meet them.
Safety should be an issue in using any of these apps today. In July 6th of this year, Demetris Nelson allegedly shot and killed 31-year-old Brian Anderson and show 26- year-old Malcolm Drake in Detroit, Michigan. Nelson used Grindr to target, contact, rob, fatally shoot, and seriously wound two gay men. Nelson targeted them because they were gay men and became another in a long string of hate crimes that have been committed against LGBTQ people going back as far as 2016 or later. This was not Nelson’s first-time using dating apps to target people. Two hours before killing Anderson and wounding Drake, Nelson admitted to using another app to rob another person at gunpoint. He has admitted to using aliases and various other apps for perpetuating similar crimes. Nelson has been arraigned on first-degree murder, felony murder, assault, and using a firearm during a felony. He is currently awaiting sentencing.
“In May of this year, two Dallas men were charged by a federal grand jury with conspiracy to commit hate crimes, kidnapping, and carjacking after luring nine gay men through the same app to an apartment complex and subsequently kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and robbing them.” according to nbcnews.com 20-year-old Daniel Jenkins and 22- year-old Daryl Henry used guns to threaten their victims while also urinating and smearing feces on at least one. The Justice Department stated that Jenkins and Henry caused bodily harm to at least four of the victims based on perceived sexual orientation. Jenkins and Henry pretending to be gay to lure and kidnap their victims. They are being charged under federal hate crimes law.
These are only two that have happened this year. Last year, four North Texas men were also charged under federal hate crimes after they posed as gay and manipulated victims into giving out their home address. These four men ranged in age from 19 to 21 and were sentenced from 10 to 20 years for breaking into victims’ homes, tying them up, and assaulting physically and verbally. We often get caught up in meeting someone online that we do not question the intent or legitimacy of the person we are talking to.
In September of last year, an Oklahoma man was arrested after kidnapping and robbing several men at gunpoint. This was after luring then, on Grindr, to a specific location under the pretext of meeting another gay man. A local newspaper stated that the victims were forced to empty their pockets, hand over any personal property, and forced to give up their bank pin numbers, before being forced to lay face down on the ground of a garage. They did this to at least four other victims that night. Of all of these crimes, the most well-known predatory is “the Grindr Killer” Stephen Port. Port was known for drugging, raping, and killing four men me met through Grindr. Port, 43-years-old, would drug his victims with GHB, rape and kill them, then he would dispose of the bodies in a churchyard near his London apartment between 2014 and 2015.
With GPS being such an integral part of the apps, it also opens up safety and security issues. How do you keep yourself safe in modern online dating? With apps you can turn off location services for each one. This will ensure that someone cannot simply target you based on your general location and picture.
Make sure you always meet in a public place, this is to give you an escape, should the situation just seem off. Safety first, even if it is at a bus stop or just outside of their building, this allows you to build in an escape route.
Always let someone know where you are going, address, and the person’s real name, phone number, and picture, if you know them. This may seem embarrassing but is far better to have a friend know what is going on, so you have a safe way out. They will know how to get in touch with or find you.
Your phone and smartwatch can be used as a means to send out an SOS so authorities can be alerted. You can set up apps, like Find My Friend, to call out to a safe person or let them know where you are, if you get in trouble.
Agree on reasonable expectations of your meetup. Detail upfront what you expect to happen and where your limits are, make sure you both are on the same page. Do not be afraid to say no to the situation. This is about your body as much as theirs, know your limits.
Do not take more with you than you will ever need. Leave your ID, wallet, and money in a safe location. If they are coming to your house, hide as many valuables as you can and even your medication. If you are meeting them, take only what is essential.
Know your limits when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Don’t drink simply because they are offering you something. If they have bad intentions, this is the way they will enact them. It is better to air on the cautious side than to put yourself in a bad spot.
Think with your brain and not your dick. Think about the area you are going; is this a place you would travel to if you weren’t horny? If then answer is no, then it is best to call it off. Afterall, masturbation will cure the edge of horniness until a safer time can be found.
And if anything happens, report it. Don’t be embarrassed, if the person is who they claim to be, tried to make you do something you were uncomfortable with, let the app admins know. You may have met on a hook up add, but it does not make your claim any less real.
Just remember, there are steps you should consider when using any app. Our emotions get the best of us and the desire to act on them makes that even stronger. Your safety should always be first. Remember that we, as LGBTQ people, are targets for violence. As this country changes and becomes a darker place than we were used to, it is especially more important. Be responsible and always ask questions, if they flake out over you being cautious then it is probably not worth the effort.