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In the US, overall incidents of sexual violence have fallen by 63% since 1993, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

By contrast, the UK’s Office for National Statistics has recorded an increase in sexual assaults since 2012.

Over the past four years, 17 people in the Greater Manchester area have reported being raped after using one of two apps, Grindr and Tinder, according to police statistics obtained by Leech through a freedom of information request.

A total of 58 people were victims of online dating-related crimes in those four years, some of them sexual. For context, in 2012 the area had an overall average of 243 sexual assaults and rapes every month.) Many apps offer a page of advice for safe dating.

Nevertheless, while app-related assaults were still rare, they were rising fast enough for the NCA to flag the emergence of “a new type of sexual offender.” Usually a man, he’s less likely than other sexual offenders to have committed any kind of crime before, but instead exploits the “ease of access and arm-chair approach” to meeting people that dating sites enable.

Of course, sexual assaults related to online dating may be on the rise just because online dating itself is on the rise.

In the absence of hard data, it’s anecdotes that shape the conversation about online dating safety.

In 2016 Stephen Port was convicted in the UK of killing four young men he met on the gay dating app Grindr.

In 2016, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) released findings on data from police forces around the country. Not all the forces collect data specific to dating apps.

But Leech wants other protections, like giving users alerts about potential risks before they ever begin chatting with strangers.

Is this scaremongering, or is online dating truly putting users in danger?

But fake profiles abound, sexual predators use the sites, and some common online dating behavior—like meeting alone after scant acquaintance, sharing personal information, and using geolocation—puts users at risk.

Dating companies are being pushed to better protect users, but some seem reluctant to do more— or even to talk about whether there’s a problem.

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