Police have issued a warning over online dating after seeing a rise in reports of sexual assaults involving people who met on the web before lockdown.
Hertfordshire Constabulary is urging people to stay alert when considering meeting up with someone they have talked to online as restrictions around lockdown continue to be relaxed.
The warning comes as the county’s police force said the number of reports of sexual assaults involving people who had met on popular online dating sites rose before the coronavirus lockdown was imposed, including both male and female victims.
Inspector Nicola Dean, from the Constabulary’s Crime Reduction and Community Safety unit, said: “We would never discourage anyone from using these apps and sites as they can be a great way to meet new people in the digital age. However, it is important to remain vigilant as we know that, unfortunately, these platforms can be used by those who have unscrupulous intentions.
“Before lockdown was implemented, the Constabulary had seen a rise in reports of sexual assaults involving people who had met on popular online dating sites, including both male and female victims.
“Meeting and chatting with someone online, sharing intimate feelings and hopes can make you believe you know someone well. All of this can happen in a very compressed period of time, which can foster a false sense of security before you meet in person, especially during what has been a difficult and unprecedented time over the past couple of months.
“With this in mind, and as lockdown restrictions start to ease, we would encourage people to take some simple precautions to help people keep themselves safer while online dating.”
Police are also reaching out to those who may have become victims during lockdown but are scared to speak out.
Detective Inspector John Harlock, from the Constabulary’s Sexual Offences Investigation Team, said: “We are aware of instances where people have become victims of sexual offences after meeting up with someone they’ve spoken to online during lockdown, but are too worried to report it to police, for fear of reprisals around breaching the restrictions.
“Please be assured that this is not the case; we do not want anyone to suffer in silence. We have specialist officers on hand to offer advice and support so please do not hesitate to contact us.”
Police advice around online dating includes:
• Never give out personal information, such as your address or place of work, on your online profile.
• Stop communicating with anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable and contact the dating provider to help protect others.
• Always meet in a public place for the first time and arrange your own transport to and from the date.
• Make sure you tell a friend, colleague or family member where you are going and update them regularly to let them know you’re ok.
• Do not leave drinks or personal belongings unattended during a date.
• Familiarise yourself with the Ask For Angela scheme, which encourages people to discreetly seek assistance from bar staff if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe during a date, and suggest meeting in a location which promotes the scheme.
• Remember that sex without consent is rape.