A recent episode of the ABC’s 4 Corners program highlighted a concerning trend of sexual assaults occurring after victims were matched with alleged offenders through popular dating apps such as Tinder. The episode exposed the hurdles victims face when reporting the assaults to police or directly to the developers of the dating apps.
Unmatch and disappearing evidence of particular concern is the misuse of Tinder’s “Unmatch” function by predators. Unmatch was designed to keep Tinder users safe, by enabling them to block offensive or predator users from seeing or interacting with their account. However, 4 Corners exposed how sexual predators are using Unmatch to block their victims after sexually assaulting or raping them. Because Unmatch deletes all history of communication between the users, including messages and the option to view the user’s profile, the victim may be left with no evidence of contact with the alleged offender. This “disappearing evidence” makes it difficult for police to investigate the crime.
Complaints to Tinder
Interviews with victims on 4 Corners suggested that Tinder does not have systems of accountability in place to respond to criminal allegations or to adequately protect its users from potential predators. Most complaints to Tinder from victims were answered with an automated email response, and not followed up further. In some cases, the predator’s account was removed. However, due to the ease of setting up a Tinder account – an email address and mobile number are the only forms of ID required – there is nothing to stop the predator from returning to the app. At this point, it appears that complaints to Tinder are unlikely to provide increased protection to users.
Complaints to Victoria Police
To have the best chance of obtaining a conviction, sexual assaults should ideally be reported to police soon after the crime. It is important that a full police statement is made. Victims of these offences should remember that just because they didn’t say “no” does not mean that they are taken to have consented to a sexual act. Not saying “no” is not grounds for police to refuse to assist.
Applications to VOCAT
Even if it appears that the sexual assault cannot be proved, an application for assistance can still be made to VOCAT. VOCAT is guided by “beneficial legislation.” This means it is there to help victims. VOCAT does not require an offender to be convicted, nor necessarily charged. However, if a charge is laid, the application will have a greater prospect of success.
To avoid any evidentiary issues arising in the event of an assault, it is recommended that Tinder not be used as a primary platform for communication, as conversations and history can be deleted via Unmatch. At a minimum, users of any dating app should record the name and details of their date in another form, so that any alleged offender can be identified and located by police.