Tech companies must take responsibility for the use of their apps by sexual predators and not leave it up to women to take extra measures to keep themselves safe, the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) has said.
“Women should be able to use dating apps without fearing for their safety,” NWCI director Orla O’Connor said on Monday following the jailing of rapist Patrick Nevin.
Women often blame themselves for sexual attacks because they “put themselves out there” while the focus should be on “perpetrators and those responsible for these apps”, said Ms O’Connor.
“We know it’s so difficult to report rape or sexual assault but I think it’s even more difficult for women to report people they have met through dating apps. That’s why this case is so important.”
Serial sex offender Nevin was jailed on Monday for 12 years for attacking three women in the space of 11 days after meeting them on Tinder. Nevin has been in custody since September 2014 when he was first arrested for sexually assaulting a Brazilian woman he met on Tinder.
Ms O'Connor called on the Government to ensure the upcoming Central Statistics Office survey into sexual violence in Ireland, which is set to be published in five years time, includes details of how many women and men are being targeted by aggressive or violent users through dating apps.
It is unclear how many people are suffering abuse, sexual assault or harassment as a result of meeting someone online, she warned.
Chief executive of the Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) Noeline Blackwell said the Nevin case should be widely publicised to ensure more people have the confidence to speak out about sexual violence they have suffered after meeting someone through a dating app.
She warned that many women feel responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped, citing one of Nevin’s victims, who described herself as “stupid”.
Some women will visit the rape crisis centre for advice but many still choose not to report the incident to gardaí for fear of not being taken seriously, said Ms Blackwell.
She said dating sites should take greater responsibility for the safety of their users. “They all speak about sharing but don’t really emphasise the risks associated with using it. Many people have successful dates from online but nevertheless there are risks.”
Users should also take the usual precautions that have always been taken when meeting a stranger, she said. “Even with the old-fashioned blind date, you’re always told to meet in a public place and make sure someone else knows where you are.”
Dublin Senator Catherine Noone called for all sex offenders to be banned from using dating apps for life, saying it was "common sense" to restrict these people from interacting with others online.
“People should always take precautions on dating apps but they should also expect some level of security vetting when using these apps. By introducing measures that will ban individuals convicted of a sexual crime, we can begin to provide this level of security.”