Grace Millane’s father said they will return home to try to pick up the pieces of their lives.
British backpacker Grace Millane met her killer on dating app Tinder. They’d matched while she was travelling on her gap year.
She could never have known that first date would see her strangled to death in a man’s hotel room she barely knew, and her body later buried in the Wait?kere Ranges.
The man who killed her was found guilty of murder on Friday, November 22 following a High Court trial in Auckland.
Throughout the trial, the court heard about the accused’s previous Tinder dates and Grace’s messages she’d sent via Whiplr – another dating app.
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Meeting strangers as potential suitors isn’t a new concept; years ago people would put ads in newspapers, but now using dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, Grinder and Whiplr has become the norm.
But how safe are these apps when users become the targets of scams, violence, sexual assault, rape and in some cases murder?
In New Zealand, police don’t record crimes relating to dating apps, but in the United Kingdom the government does.
In NZ crimes are coded under the offence rather than whether a dating app is involved.
A spokesperson for New Zealand Police said the force acknowledged that social media and dating apps were an increasingly common way to meet people, and this could extend to opportunities for crime.
“Police work to help prevent crime and victimisation, no matter how the individuals involved have met, or how the crime is facilitated,” the spokesperson said.
Coding offence by the crime type is therefore more appropriate than the crime having involved an app, police said.
“Police’s purpose is for the public to be safe and feel safe, and together with our community partners we work hard to achieve this.”
Earlier this year, Sky News in the UK reported crimes relating to online dating had dramatically risen between 2011 and 2016.
From 2011 to 2016 there was a 682 per cent increase. The number of sexual crimes reported rose from 14 to 106 and violent attacks were up from 29 to 240.
The National Crime Agency’s head of national investigative capabilities, Sean Sutton, told Sky News that only about 16 per cent of all stranger rape cases and sexual assaults in general were reported to the police.
“…we know that we are only dealing with the tip of the iceberg of the problem so that’s why we’re keeping a good eye on it,” Sutton told Sky.
“Over 70 per cent of the stranger rape cases we see are from people going home with their date or taking their date back to their own accommodation on their first date.”
Back here in New Zealand, Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said he would be supportive of police collating data relating to crimes and dating apps.
“The reality is that any app or service that connects people can be exploited for criminal purposes,” he said.
People who use dating apps can be lured into dangerous situations.
“Anytime you’re creating an app there’s a risk of physical harm,” Cocker said.
However he did say the positives of dating apps was that you could communicate from a safe distance first and would recommend meeting a public place for the first time.
TINDER IN THE TRIAL
Tinder was a tool for the man who killed Grace to meet women. The accused’s lawyer, Ian Brookie said the killer was so insecure he would fabricate stories about his job in an effort to make himself seem more attractive to the swathes of women he met online.
The accused told Grace he was the manager of an oil company. He told another he was a sales manager, and one woman that he had been the head of marketing for a big company in Australia.
But the truth was, when he met Grace for their date he was unemployed.
Weeks prior a woman he met on Tinder went over to his CityLife hotel room and the pair had sex, there was nothing untoward about this meeting, the court heard.
Another woman had matched with the accused on Tinder in 2018, but they never met.
He told her of his sexual preferences including strangulation, feet, and how he liked to control and dominate women.
“I didn’t feel comfortable meeting him with some of the things he wanted to do,” she said.
The final woman to give evidence about a Tinder date with the man was a young woman who was left feeling “terrified” after her sexual encounter with him.
She told the court he suffocated her using a part of his body while she thrashed around, desperately trying to catch a breath.
The court also heard that while Grace lay dead in his hotel room, the killer managed to meet up with another woman he’d met on Tinder.
The pair met at 5pm at Revelry, a trendy Auckland bar. But the former journalist told the court that her conversation with the man was bizarre.
Ultimately the date ended with her pretending she had parked her car somewhere else to avoid walking in the same direction as the accused. She later refused to meet with him again.
WHAT THE DATING APPS SAY
Tinder refused to answer Stuff’s questions and simply sent a link to their safety policy.
The policy states Tinder has a zero-tolerance policy on harassment and encourages its community to report any instances of misconduct.
“In the event that we receive such a report, our dedicated community team takes appropriate measures, which may include removing the content, banning the user, or notifying the appropriate law enforcement resources.”
A Grindr spokesperson told Stuff it has more than 4.5 million daily active users in “virtually every country in the world”.
The spokesperson said the safety of its users was a core value and it takes a number of measures to protect the community.
Bumble officially launched in New Zealand nearly two years ago. It now has around 500,000 users in New Zealand and 70 million worldwide, a spokeswoman said.
Founder Whitney Wolfe Herd started the app with the mission to put an end to toxic online behaviour and end misogyny.
The brand is recognised for the extra safety measures it’s incorporated to ensure inappropriate images are not shared.
The business also lobbied the Texan Government to make unsolicited lewd communication illegal in the state of Texas, which is where Bumble’s headquarters is based.
Whiplr, which has more than a million users, did not respond to Stuff‘s request for comment.
However on its website states it aims to promote a safe environment, in light of the three main principles of BDSM – sane, safe and consensual.