LGBT Australians have criticised the dating app Grindr for allowing predators to easily create new profiles, despite reporting them for harassment or assault.
Grindr users only need an email address to create a new profile and no other verification information, like a mobile phone number, is necessary. What’s more, many accounts on the app are anonymous for privacy reasons, giving abusers the opportunity to use the app freely.
Warning: this story contains descriptions of sexual assault.
24-year-old Jack shared their story as part of our crowdsourced investigation into safety and sexual assault on dating apps.
Almost 500 triple j listeners have now responded to the callout, and Match Group — Tinder’s parent company — has said they’ll change their safety policies following last week’s joint Four Corners and triple j Hack investigation.
Jack was raped by a man they met on Grindr when they were 17, after meeting up for a third date. They’d agreed to engage in oral sex, but Jack made it clear they were a virgin and wasn’t comfortable going further.
But the date took them to a public toilet, locked the door and forced Jack to get onto their knees and perform oral sex.
“I think the term would be aggressive. He was demanding and domineering.”
The man then anally raped Jack.
“It was incredibly painful because I was a virgin and I’d never experienced anything like it before,” he said.
“It was painful burning. It was assault and rape, and I didn’t know what to do.”
After the assault, Jack’s attacker continued to message them on Grindr daily with explicit messages and abuse.
“All these new profiles [were] being created, and it was always nearby, it would always appear within about six kilometres of where I was.”
Despite Jack repeatedly reporting these profiles, their abuser was able to keep creating new ones to target them. It went on for three years.
“I limited my use, because I didn’t want to receive that abuse from him again. I would block him, I would report him. But a new account would always be created. And I would always be subjected to this.”
“It went on for about three years, that it was very constant at first, like at first it was daily, then it gradually moved to weekly and finally monthly in the first year.”
Safety features shouldn’t be ‘premium’
Jack believes Grindr should do more to verify users and keep people safe.
“The fact that there are so many accounts out there that say discrete and have no profile picture – I refuse to meet anyone like that at all. I can’t see who you are, I have no way to verify you are real or safe, or anything,” he said.
Joel Murray is the manager for community health programs at ACON, a sexual health organisation in NSW.
He agrees it’s easy to set up an anonymous profile on Grindr.
While there might be good reasons for that — if a user hasn’t come out yet, or doesn’t feel comfortable being out publicly — Joel thinks that’s created a big problem for the app: fake profiles can flourish.
There are other issues too.
Unlike other dating apps such as Tinder, Grindr users don’t opt-in by swiping on a profile and agreeing to message with someone. That means anyone can message anyone on the app.
Grindr also limits the number of times a person can block someone on the app. Users can only block ten profiles per day; unlimited blocking is only available to people who pay for Grindr’s premium version.
“I do think limitations around who you can block … [those] safety features shouldn’t be only for those who decide to pay to subscribe,” Joel told Hack.
Another issue both Joel and Jack highlighted was accounts being set up using stolen photos from other Grindr users.
“I certainly know a few people who’ve had other people use their photos from Grindr – people picking up photos from Facebook or from another online site,” said Joel.
Hack approached Grindr a number of times for an interview about these issues, but they did not respond.
‘It’s hard to admit you’re a victim of a crime’
Grindr revolutionised the dating app scene when it started more than 10 years ago, and paved the way for other apps that followed.
The way it’s built has made it super popular for hookups – but that’s caused some serious problems when it comes to consent.
“Often in these sexualised spaces, whether they be online or physical, there can be an assumption around consent,” Joel Murray from ACON said.
“I think a conversation about healthy relationships and consent needs to happen broadly across our communities.”
About four years ago, Dan met up with someone he’d been chatting with on a dating app — probably Grindr, maybe Tinder, he can’t quite remember — for a Sunday arvo drink.
“There was like laughing and having a good conversation. I remember thinking, maybe not a second date after this, but it was fine,” he told Hack.
They had a few drinks, some food … but after that, it’s all blank. He doesn’t remember leaving the place they were at, or heading back to this guy’s apartment, or much after that.
Dan believes that his date drugged him.
“I could put together a couple seconds of me sitting on his lounge. And then in his bed … And then the next thing I remember is myself in a cab home.”
And while he knew that was wrong, he didn’t immediately think it was sexual assault.
“It’s tough to distinguish between a crime happening and a crime happening to you .. You’ve got to admit that you are a victim of a crime. And that’s not, I guess, not an easy thing to do,” he said.
Dan was disturbed by the night, but tried to move on with life as normal.
“Thinking back in it, I was a bit more withdrawn. I don’t think I went on any dates or tried to meet up with anybody afterwards, I chalked that up at the time to just being busy.”
A few months after the assault, Dan went for a routine sexual health check up. He was diagnosed as HIV positive.
It was a shock for Dan, who says he’s always strict with protection.
“I remember it not even occurring to me as to where I could have gotten it because I’ve always been pretty cautious. Kind of paranoid to a point.”
A couple of days later, he made the connection with that night – it was a glaring gap in his careful records, where he writes down every sexual encounter.
Like the vast majority of people who responded to our dating apps callout, Dan didn’t report his abuser to the dating app.
Many of the people we spoke to said they didn’t even know it was an option.
“I think like a year later, one of my mates matched with him. And the picture kind of spurred me and I was like, ‘Oh, don’t go there’,” said Dan.
Professor Cath Albury from Swinburne University has been researching safety on dating apps, and says Grindr was one of the platforms people were least satisfied with in her study.
Users said they felt it was a place they were more likely to experience racial abuse or harassment.
She also told Hack that historically the company has not been good in responding to complaints, or updating users on outcomes.
“I think that’s an issue for a lot of people – they make a report, then they don’t know what’s happened as a result of the report, so they don’t actually know whether they’re safe from future harassment or not,” she said.
“Given that a premium is charged for certain services, I would think Grindr certainly would have the resources to offer a high protection profile, for example.”
Dan thinks dating apps like Grindr, Scruff, and Tinder could have a rating system to flag people who make you feel unsafe.
He doesn’t think it should be a public thing, like an Uber rating – but a record for Grindr to keep on file, in case further reports are made, or a police investigation opens up.
Joel Murray from ACON says dating apps could be more proactive about providing information on consent, the laws around sexual assault, and what users can do if they’d had a bad experience.
“If people have experienced sexual assault, they have a right to report it to the police, and then maybe there could be some local support services like the rape crisis hotline in order to get that kind of emotional and psychological support,” he said.
“Everyone has a right to safety and if sexual assault occurs, report it or reach out to ACON or another support service who might be able to support you around making a report.”
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