A senior police officer is warning people who use dating apps to take extra security precautions as concerns grow over the scale of violence and sexual assaults linked to their use.
The conviction of Stephen Port for the serial killings of young men he met via a variety of dating apps, including Grindr and Gaydar, comes after the case of Stefano Brizzi, who killed a police officer, Gordon Semple, whom he met via the Grindr app.
The use of dating apps by perpetrators of sexual violence is one of the National Crime Agency’s emerging threats to the general public. Recent figures showed the number of allegations of rapes linked to dating websites have risen sixfold in the last five years.
The NCA said in its most recent figures that 184 people had reported being raped by someone they had met via a dating app or website in 2014 – up from 33 in 2009. Twice as many people now report being raped by someone they met online as are attacked by a bogus taxi driver – a danger once seen as so great it attracted a huge public awareness campaign.
The Norfolk chief constable, Simon Bailey, national police lead on violence and public protection, said there was a direct connection between the use of dating apps and a rise in crime.
“The rising popularity of online dating apps and websites has contributed to an increase in the number of recorded crimes,” said Bailey. “We strongly encourage users to report offences and seek support if they become a victim of any type of crime.
“I would urge those who use online dating apps to be as security-conscious as possible and not to share personal data with anyone until they are sure about those they are communicating with.”
Port was a prolific user of gay dating apps including Grindr, Gaydar, FitLads, SlaveBoys, Hornet and Badoo. His case highlights how individuals with violent intentions can exploit the apps to gain the trust of victims. Port used a false name and a fake profile picture in some of his personal information to gain the trust of the men who were to meet him.
He used the names “shyguy”, “top fun Joe”, “Basketballguy” and a variety of others and cited his preference for “under 30” and slim men. In one profile, he claimed to be an Oxford graduate. In another, a special needs teacher.
“I am a shy, polite guy. Enjoy keeping in shape, love to have a good time. I am romantic, caring and would take good care of my partner. I am successful, educated and determined,” he wrote. “I’m looking for fun/date/bf who is between 18-24, slim, smooth twink type, not too camp tho …. who has plenty of energy and enjoys a good time.”
Bailey said the greatest danger was often at the first face-to-face meeting. He urged men and women who use dating apps to take security precautions when they met their “date” for the first time.
“If you are planning on meeting someone for the first time, take precautions and meet in a public place,” he said. “Individuals should stop all communication with anyone who attempts to pressurise them into something they are not comfortable with. If this happens you should contact the dating app provider immediately to discuss your concerns and always report any criminal activity to the police.”
The vulnerability of victims who meet people with violent intent via dating apps was starkly illustrated by the Port case. Having enticed his victim with a fake profile, Port would use his first meeting with the men to slip GHB into their drink, or in some cases, he would tell them it was lubricant. Within 15 minutes, they would be unconscious.
GHB, an anaesthetic, is popular on the dance and club scene, and is available in liquid form [liquid ecstasy] or powdered form.
In low doses, it is reported to produce euphoria, to lower social inhibition and increase libido. At higher doses, euphoria gives way to sedation. Still larger doses can induce coma. In some cases death can arise as a result of respiratory depression or inhalation of vomit. It is particularly dangerous when taken in conjunction with other sedatives, such as alcohol, or sleeping pills.
Port worked as a male escort – and was well aware of the power a stranger with violent intentions could hold over an unwitting victim.
When giving evidence he was asked about his safety rules as an escort. He replied: “I would never accept a drink or anything to eat off a client. And I always took my own lube, condoms and poppers.” It was just such vulnerability he exploited in the victims he targeted.