Valentine’s Day; where couples celebrate their love and singles lament in the expanses of the online dating scene. Cue Tinder….
For many young Australians, dating apps have become the sole gateway into the dating scene. For example, since launching in 2012 Tinder has grown to have 50 million users ‘swipe’ through the mobile application each month to find their match. With 83% of users being between the ages of 16 and 34, it is no longer uncommon to hear couples endearingly speak the phrase “we met on Tinder”. The murder trial of Gable Tostee received worldwide media attention when media outlets focussed on the fact that the pair had met on Tinder before Warriena Wright fell to her death from a Gold Coast apartment balcony.
This article will highlight some of the situations dating apps may place you in, and will discuss the legal ramifications of ones’ actions in those scenarios.
What are the dangers of dating apps?
Access to Information
Although internet-date horror stories receive disproportionate media attention, there are risks associated with using online dating apps.
Many dating apps require the user to input their name, and some even require them to sign in through their Facebook account. Whilst this may seem irrelevant at first, in this digital age a name is all that is required for someone to successfully search for and find you on social media sites. Once there, any information or photos you have made publically available is at the complete disposal of the person searching for you. Information accessed can range from age to which school or University you attend, or even where you live and are employed.
Many dating apps also allow a user to link their profile to Instagram and other social apps. In many instances, this link bypasses the security or privacy settings you have placed on your social media account, allowing for someone viewing your online profile to access large amounts of information that you may have thought was private.
Dating apps pose a unique situation to many users; making a decision to meet with someone without observing their body language and getting an instinctual sense of who they are. In conventional dating, for example at a bar or nightclub, you could easily walk away or re-join your friends if you found a potential suitor odd or something concerned you about them. Dating apps allow users to engage with each other for a longer period of time without face to face contact and regularly push towards a one-on-one date. In this sense, many users take a risk in meeting with each other, usually alone, without engaging in the vetting process that would generally occur in person.
This poses considerable risks when the person you are meeting is volatile, or hostile, and you are alone. Again, whilst unlikely, it is not unheard of for users to have been assaulted whilst on dates.
Are someone’s actions criminal?
Although unlikely, access to information and increased risk taking can pose a strong risk to one’s safety. Fortunately, South Australia’s criminal law has numerous protections for behaviour which may be considered anti-social and offensive.
Stalking is defined as not just being when a person follows another person. It encompasses situations where a person loiters outside another’s place of residence or some other place frequented by the person, communicates with the other person or keeps the other person under surveillance. In any event, the stalker must intend to cause either serious mental or physical harm to the person being stalked or intends to cause serious apprehension or fear.
A person found guilty of stalking faces a maximum of 3 years imprisonment and a criminal conviction. If the Prosecution cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt that someone has been stalking another person, the lesser offence of Offensive Behaviour will be pursued.
Assault is defined as an intentional or unsolicited physical force used against another individual. But assault does not only take the form of physical contact. A person can be liable for assault through the use of mere words or conduct that reasonably allows the victim to believe that the threat will be carried out. In South Australia, the maximum penalty for an assault charge is 2 years imprisonment. However, the Assault may be classified as “Aggravated” due to the use of a weapon, or where it occurs during a domestic relationship, resulting in an increase any likely imprisonment term to a maximum of 5 years.
How can a criminal lawyer help me?
In the event that you are subject to stalking or assault from an online acquaintance, you should be aware of the avenues available to protect you.
In most scenarios, Police will take the role of prosecuting a person for criminal behaviour. If you are subject to an assault you should immediately contact Police and seek their assistance.
If, however, you are more concerned about a person’s ongoing conduct towards you through social media or in person, a solicitor is able to help you file an intervention order against the person in question.
Get an Intervention Order
An intervention order is a court order designed to protect a person by placing limits on the behaviour of another person. An intervention order can be made to protect a person from physical assault, sexual assault, harassment, property damage or interference with property, serious threats or stalking which might include following you, hanging around your home or workplace, phoning/emailing/texting you. Breaking or “contravening” and intervention order is a criminal offence and the person breaking the order may be charged by police. In this respect, an intervention order is a good way to prevent a person from continuing to engage in the unsociable behaviour.
What can I do to keep safe?
It is important to remember that dating apps can be used safely and that there is no need to be exceedingly paranoid about the potential pitfalls in using them. You can, however, safeguard against any potential issues by:
- Checking and upgrading your privacy settings on your social media sites;
- Holding off sharing your personal details until you are comfortable enough with someone;
- Using an alias if concerned about your safety;
- Always meeting someone in public, preferably at a café or bar that you are familiar with;
- Informing your friends or family of your intentions and whereabouts; and
- Never getting into a car with someone you don’t know well or are not comfortable with.
Should you have any concerns or would like an intervention order drafted against someone, please contact Georgiadis Lawyers. Our experienced Adelaide Criminal and Family Lawyers are able to meet with you to discuss any issues in a confidential and sensitive way.