Original article published here
Over the weekend, we were informed that there was an act of violence committed against a same-sex attracted man after utilising a geosocial networking app. Now, I can only speak for myself, but using apps is something that I have done very frequently. I have found myself thinking back to how potentially dangerous some of the positions I have put myself in while horny and looking for some company.
The first time that I ever met up with someone off Grindr I remember being so nervous. I felt like I shouldn’t be doing this, and was asking myself “what if it ends up being like an episode of Catfish from MTV? What if he is weird or violent or doesn’t look like his photos? What if the sex is terrible?” A thousand different thoughts were going through my head as I drove into the city. That night I was CAUTIOUS. I dotted my I’s and crossed my T’s. I spoke to him over a period of a week. I got his Facebook first. We met in public and in a well-lit, populated area. I even remember making note to walk next to him and look up at cameras in the foyer of the hotel (because he was over here on holiday) so that at least if I got murdered my mum could rest easy knowing they caught the guy.
Now, I am the first one to admit that having that much anxiety about a one night stand was from a place of not feeling confident and comfortable sexually. As my confidence and experience has increased, I have found myself in positions where I have gone to people’s houses and had people come to mine that I knew very little about. I did very little to minimise how much risk I was putting myself in, because the assumption was that it would just be like every other time that I had ended up being safe. I am hoping I am not alone when I say that I have woken up after a night out, unlocked my phone, and had Grindr pop up with messages of some very horny conversations. I’ve thought to myself “thank the lord I did not follow through with that”, or “lucky I fell asleep halfway through that and never agreed to meet” because realistically, I would have done something that I usually wouldn’t do and potentially something unsafe. Remember, when throwing caution to the wind, it only takes one time to have a negative experience.
I look back through some of the work that has been done in my role at the WA AIDS Council and think how interesting it would have been to be doing beat outreach and educating people on how to use public spaces for sex in a safe way. The assumption that sort of exists now that Grindr, Scruff, Blue’d, Boy-a-hoy, Hornet and Tinder etc. are safer ways to cruise. I am lucky to be same-sex attracted in a time where there is legal protection for me, there are methods of finding other same-sex attracted men without having to go to public places that had violence occur from people thinking they were doing some ‘public service’. Just because these apps have made things safer in some regards, we need to be reminded that it does also raise other issues such as catfishing, misusing of peoples nude photos, and as has been seen last week, the luring of same-sex attracted people to places to commit a hate crime.
Here are my Top 5 Tips to Using Apps Safely:
Sounds basic to start off with, but lord knows we have all seen those faceless profiles or torso accounts. Getting face pics really is the first step to having some insurance when cruising online. It is important to note, that just because someone can produce face pics, it doesn’t mean that they are who they say they are.
2. Social Media
Ask people for their social media. Get their Facebook, see if there is an Instagram connected to their profile, and ask them for SnapChat. This doesn’t guarantee that people don’t have multiple fake accounts, but the likelihood of people investing the time necessary to make a Facebook and an Instagram look real is a lot harder than it is to get enough photos of someone to convince someone on an app that the account is real. This can get difficult when people are ‘discreet’, and yes their privacy should be protected. If this is the case, consider utilising some of the tips below to minimise risk.
3. Meet somewhere public
This can be a bit tricky if you are looking for a root and boot. I know that when all you want is sex and as long as you get on sexually you don’t really care what he is like, the idea of getting a coffee can be a pain. But, it is a good precaution to take, particularly if things are not adding up online. It doesn’t have to be coffee – meet at a local McDonalds, meet at a park nearby – just make sure it’s a well-lit one if you are meeting at night.
4. Tell someone where you’re going
I consider myself very lucky that I have friends that I can be open with about my use of dating apps. I can message my friend’s details, like the address of a place I’m going to meet someone, and not be judged. If things go pear-shaped, I know that there is someone who knows where I am and someone who is waiting to get a message from me to know that I am safe. I joke with my friends when I send an address like ‘hey just a heads up, I’m going to xxxxxxxxx. If I die, you know where to send the cops. Make sure they get caught so my mum can have peace of mind’. But all jokes aside, this can be awkward but important to do. With things like sharing your location on your phone, it’s easier than ever to do this.
5. Trust your gut instinct
This is probably the most important tip I can give. Your gut instincts exist to keep you safe. If you are feeling like something is not adding up, explore it before going further. Never write off that feeling as “I’m just being silly” and never let a guy say to you “seriously bro why would I do that” or “don’t you trust me?” because you have no reason to trust someone anonymous you’ve been chatting to for 5 minutes. Continue to check in with yourself to make sure you’re still comfortable. If you are talking online and everything is sounding good – that’s awesome. If you then meet up and things are still looking good – even better. If you go somewhere to have sex and suddenly you start feeling uneasy – you have every right to say no and ask them to leave or to get up and leave yourself.
For some fantasies, like walking in and finding someone face down, or meeting in a public place for anonymous sex, considering these safety tips can be a bit of a turn-off. I hate the fact that because a small percentage of people have bad intentions, it might prevent people from getting the sex they want. In these situations, consider getting creative. I have used Snapchat quite a lot because people feel as though they are better able to share pictures. I have asked people to steam up a bathroom mirror and write the date so I could be sure of who they are. A friend of mine has also got a boy to Snapchat a particular tree he was going to be standing behind with his pants down so they could ensure the person was alone, and who he said he was. Remember though, at the end of the day, there will be plenty of opportunities to fulfil these fantasies later on if something doesn’t feel right.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you are exposed to a catfish, report the account through the channels that apps have to protect people from fake accounts. If you have any experiences of violence, there is support through the police and know that the law is there to protect you. If you report to the police and you aren’t satisfied with their response or their actions, then there is a Community Diversity team at the police that you can speak to. There is also support and counselling through the WA AIDS Council on 9482 0000.