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Blocking former sex offenders from internet dating sites is futile

2013 September 12
by Zoe Strimpel
The date might be going well...but that's no reason to let your guard down.

The date might be going well…but that’s no reason to let your guard down.

An anti-stalking charity has called for internet dating agencies to clamp down on potential stalkers following a wave of complaints from women. Men who have previously been convicted of domestic violence should be blocked from the sites, it says. The call is not entirely out of the blue. In addition to the complaints about harassment and the seemingly infinite spread of the digital dating empire, there is finally a regulatory body for internet dating called the Online Dating Association. It is taking steps to give users more security in the wake of an identity theft scandal by providing a kitemark on all approved sites. There seems to be some idea that the new security measures will offer technology that can be be marshalled for keeping wife-beaters from internet dating.

Paladin, the anti-stalking group,  said it’s “‘extraordinary’ that a lack of regulation meant abusive men could keep joining dating sites. It said anyone who was found to be involved in stalking or violence should be barred from all dating agencies and the matter referred to the police” [Guardian].

Believe me, I’m all for regulation of the internet dating industry – in addition to its matchmaking successes, it’s a melange of weirdness, perviness and fraudulence with very little hard data or accountability to show for its £300m per year. I’m also all for the preventing of sex offenders having free reign to reoffend.

However, I am fairly sure that internet dating – like all dating and all social decisions – is a case of “caveat emptor” – buyer beware. Why on earth should people be blocked from sites when they’re allowed in pubs or indeed in any place they could possibly meet a woman? At the end of the day, internet dating sites are not like schools or other places where there is a public duty to control who enters and participates. People on dating sites are all paying (or fully consensual) adults. They are consumers partaking of a product. Granted, consumer protection is a valuable concept – but there is just no way of making every man pass some online test requiring them to prove he has no convictions.

Walking down the street at any given time you may be passing paedophiles, murderers, embezzlers, or people who once had a fetish for poisoning dogs. So long as someone is not at that moment locked up, they can be the person you make eyes at on the bus, and it is your job to choose the people you trust wisely. In my experience, it’s fairly easy to sniff out a weirdo, no matter how charming they at first seem. Women who let men get away with violent or threatening behaviour more than once require assistance that an internet dating site won’t give them, no matter how fancy their screening system. Abusive men are online; they’re also tat the bar, in the workplace, at the shop, the neighbour. Calling for a block to men with convictions joining an internet dating site is a tiny bit like calling for everyone with a criminal record to be kept off the streets at night.

Claims that the internet is the most dangerous medium going, a place of uncontrolled seduction by stalkers, also seems strange. As any veteran digital dater will tell you, the Internet is NOT always such a seductive medium. A dangerous man is far more likely to hook you in with his personal charms in a club or by spiking your drink than by sending you a message reading “hey babe you look fit” attached to a dodgy picture in which he’s trying to smile over his bulging beer paunch and under his massive pattern baldness.

I’m all for protecting women. But when it comes to the people we date, women – as all people whatever their gender or orientation – need to be their own first line of defence.


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