CHENNAI: When 23-year-old Nivetha* decided to sign up for a dating app, little did she know that she would stumble upon men wanting to sexually assault her.
Nivetha had come to the city for internship last December. “Curious about dating apps and being away from home, I signed up. In a couple of days, I befriended a man of the same age and the conversation was decent. We continued talking and two days before wrapping up my internship, he asked me out for dinner. He claimed to be running a restaurant at Kodambakkam. He was late for our date and reached only by 11.30pm and then took me to his house, to which I agreed thinking we were only going to have dinner,” says Nivetha.
“When he promised to drop me back home, I decided to have a couple of drinks. And while waiting for him to finish his work regarding the restaurant, I fell asleep. It was only later in the night, I woke up to him trying to remove my clothes, and two of his friends in the same room standing shirtless,” she recalls, claiming it to be the most horrible night of her life.
When she tried to leave the house, they held her back and she had to beg and threaten to call the police, after which she was taken to a car and dropped midway en route to her hostel. She was also threatened to not tell anybody. After more such threats, she decided to leave the city and deleted the app.
Nowhere to go
While dating apps like Tinder, OkCupid and Aisle have helped liberate women to a certain degree, when they face harassment either online or during the dates, there are no organisations to approach without fear of being shamed. Mahi* a content writer, says: “I was going through a rough phase in life so I decided to join dating apps and made some good friends. But, I have had my share of bad experiences as well. A few men cannot handle rejection. Once you reject or say no to their requests, they tend to get very abusive and ensure they shame you.”
Sharing a similar experience, Kiran* said she joined Tinder with an intention to have casual conversations. She was matched with a person and strangely, the conversation began with him shaming her for posting pictures of her in modern clothes. “Apparently, he was my follower on Instagram and when we matched on Tinder, he felt the need to pass lewd comments. When I started giving it back, he said, ‘Women like you deserve to be raped. I’ve traced your location and will find and rape you’,” she says. “A few jump the gun and start talking dirty,” adds Sakshi Nigam, another woman who has had bad experiences.
A woman police officer working in the cyber crime cell of the city police said women these days do not hesitate to tell the men when they feel uncomfortable.
“But very rarely they approach the police because most of them sign up for the apps without the knowledge of the family members. Facebook and other social networking sites have received approval from the society now, but finding a person using datings app and openly talking about it is still off limits. And once a person shares her thoughts about the harassment, the next thing people do is blaming her,” she adds.
A study conducted by a US-based non-profit consumer research agency on online dating users highlighted that 57 per cent of women respondents and 21 per cent of male respondents claimed experiences of harassment.
Another IT professional who was on two of the dating apps in the past said there are risks but the women should also realise that they don’t have to be scared of everything. “For instance, it is a challenge for most women to even sign up for these apps and going on dates is a huge task for most of them. And despite this, if they proceed with the date and it turns out to be a bad experience, they tend to shut themselves down and go into depression. Instead, they can start off being a little more cautiously like meeting in public places. Also, they should avoid sending nude pictures. Not all on dating apps are dangerous but they do exist,” she adds.
Speaking to Express, Rohini Lakshane, director (emerging research) at The Bachchao Project, which specializes on research on the intersection of gender and technology, says almost all the dating apps have standard security features like ‘block’ and ‘report the user’, but there is no concrete evidence on how the app companies would respond when issues do arise. “A few dating apps have high-security features. For example, the profile pictures or any picture for that matter cannot be downloaded, and if a link is shared by the user, it is not clickable.
A few other apps do a reverse image search and if the photo is found somewhere else, they reject the photo,” she said. Lakshane also pointed out that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, though they do not fall under the dating app category, still have tips on using these sites. And, if victims hesitate to take the legal way fearing moral policing, they should at least go through the safety tips before signing up for these apps. Also, just to be cautious, it is not a good idea to link social media (Instagram or Facebook) accounts to their bio, she added.
Meanwhile, the Chennai city police said they have not yet received complaints on dating apps. “If any complaints come, we would take action immediately,” the officer added.
Avoid sites and apps that let just anyone message you
Pay attention to the geography settings in dating apps
Use unique photos for your
Avoid putting lots of personal details on your profile
Meet in a public place for your first date