Cautionary tales for online daters exist from the fine print on their dating site of choice to horror stories from friends, but experts warn dinner with the person you met online is likely to be as dangerous as with the one you met at the bar.
“Anytime you meet anybody for the first time, none of us know who we’re really meeting,” said Kristen Houser, a spokeswoman with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
STOP GUESSING AND START KNOWING WITH XOXY!
Police on Saturday arrested a Shaler man they say killed his girlfriend and tried to hide her body, first in a refrigerator, then in a shallow grave. Friends told police George Biegenwald, 57, and Donna See, 50, met about 10 months ago via the free dating website Plenty of Fish. See had been missing since Aug. 14.
Biegenwald is charged with homicide, evidence tampering and abuse of a corpse. Neighbors told the Tribune-Review the retired construction worker had run-ins with police: He was charged a few days earlier with assaulting a different woman, and in 2010, a woman left his home in an ambulance, an incident for which he pleaded guilty to domestic assault.
Houser said that in this instance, online dating might have had little to do with the crime.
“This is what relationship violence looks like,” she said.
Violence stemming from online meetings, however, is a growing concern with online dating’s normalization in society, she said.
According to a 2013 Pew Research study, 22 percent of people ages 25 to 34, 17 percent of those 35 to 44, and 10 percent of those 18 to 24 have used an Internet or smartphone dating site.
“We talk a lot about youth and teens being targeted by predators (online), but it’s no different when you look at how any offender gains access to any victim: They invest in methods to gain trust,” Houser said. “Online dating provides a certain forum where people get comfortable in communicating with somebody, and it creates a false sense of, ‘I know this person. I trust this person.’ ”
In all, about one in 10 American adults have tried online dating, according to Aaron Smith, a Pew researcher.
“It’s increased fourfold in five to six years,” he said. “As late as 2008, just 3 percent (of adults) said they had used an online dating site.”
Smith said researchers focused on website use and did not delve into experiences at or after meeting in person, though the survey did touch on some negative experiences. More than half of online daters said they felt that someone seriously misrepresented themselves online, and more than a quarter were contacted in a way that they said was harassing or uncomfortable.
Women were substantially more likely to be harassed, he said: 47 percent of female online daters compared to 17 percent of men.