‘I met my rapist on Tinder’: The truth behind the rise in online date rape

The Telegraph 28 November 2018

Rachel met her attacker on Tinder. They had messaged for a week before their first date. “He sent me a photo and a song that he had written. He was sweet at first,” she recalls. On their second date, he forced her into a recording booth and locked the door. Rachel says, “I didn’t want to do what he wanted me to do. He said if you don’t do it, you will end up in hospital.” He then subjected her to a brutal attack, lasting around 45 minutes.

Police chiefs and sexual assault referral centres have seen a troubling rise in online date rape. Research conducted by the National Crime Agency (NCA), showed an increase of 450 per cent between 2009 and 2014. The NCA says the true figure could be even higher, as its research is based on cases reported to the police, which represent just 17 per cent of rapes.

It adds that the stereotype of the stranger rapist, lurking in a dark alley, is misleading. Instead, men (for it is mostly men) are meeting and grooming their victims via dating apps and websites. “This is the latest method that offenders are using to identify potential victims,” explains Sean Sutton of the NCA.

One area in which it seems that outdated cliches about perpetrators and victims show little sign of dissipating, is our legal system.

Speaking at London’s annual Bar conference this month, Baroness Helena Kennedy, one of the country’s leading human rights QCs, said that some judges would assume a woman using dating sites “was someone who would have sex with anyone”. Her comments confirm the suspicion that judges are woefully out of touch with modern life; estimates suggest one in five people now meet their partners via the internet. More troubling, it appears even judges are suggesting victims are partially to blame themselves for being raped.

It is attitudes such as these that deter victims from reporting what has happened to them. The Havens, sexual assault referral centres in London, help many victims who feel they cannot go to the police. They have observed a marked increase in people meeting their attacker online.

Dr Yasmin Pethania, principal clinical psychologist at The Havens, says so-called stranger rapes are still the minority of cases. “Most rapes happen between people who know each other in some way. It’s about consent rather than context.”

Sean Sutton says there is a danger that online daters have very different expectations when meeting for the first time. The NCA research notes that the initial investment – time spent communicating online, or money spent travelling to a date – can create the attitude that an individual has a ‘right’ to get what they want from the meeting.

“We’ve put advice out there that people ought to be very aware of getting that consent and also to ensure that their expectations are matched with their prospective daters,” Sutton adds.

Dr Pethania says an increased sense of intimacy online can lead men to not respecting a woman’s choice. “Regardless of what a woman may have implied online, or any explicit messages or photos she may have sent, it certainly does not give anyone the right to rape them. Their behaviour prior to that meeting does not indicate consent.”

The NCA says rapists who have met their victims online can differ from ‘stranger rapists’. It highlights research showing that 84 per cent of stranger rapists have a previous criminal conviction, compared with less than half of those suspected of committing a sexual offence facilitated by online dating sites.

Harriet Wistrich, a solicitor and founder of the Centre for Women’s Justice, explains: “Men that target somebody through online dating are probably clever at avoiding being caught. The reality is the ones that are the most effective get away with it again and again.”

Rachel believes that her attacker is a serial rapist: “He even told me when he was doing it to me that there were other women. And he was prepared,” she says. “He had prepared a bucket in case I was ill.”

She is one of many thousands of rape survivors who never see their attackers brought to justice. Shocking figures published by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in September showed that fewer than five per cent of rapes reported to the police are punished by law.

Leafing through a thick folder of letters between her and the CPS, Rachel finds the last one, in which the CPS said it would not take her case to trial. It is, she says, “the most insulting and incompetent letter”, littered with errors, including getting the date of her attack wrong. The decision not to prosecute was based on explicit messages that Rachel had exchanged with her attacker. Rachel says a thorough review of the messages between her and the perpetrator would, in fact, reveal evidence to support her account.

Last year, the CPS saw a number of rape cases collapse because of the non-disclosure of digital evidence. Police chiefs say that has made prosecutors more cautious about bringing cases to trial that could fail on similar grounds.

Harriet Wistrich says that is in part down to a lack of resources to trawl through the mounds of digital data created by attackers and their victims. “They spot something thinking, ‘He can use that in his defence, we better drop the case’. But actually if you look at the overall picture and do a proper analysis, it would not necessarily help him at all. But these cases can then become really huge and resource-intensive.”

The CPS says the fundamental test it applies when making a decision – that it will charge if there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest – has not changed in response to disclosure issues. A spokesperson says a specialist prosecutor decided there was not a realistic prospect of conviction in Rachel’s case. “We appreciate this decision is disappointing to the complainant. We apologise if an error in our letter as to dates caused any distress.”

Rachel says it was not the errors that shocked her most. “It’s a strange thing to explain, when you receive letters like that, they do represent the State. Even though you try to say ‘I’m not affected by this’, you are. Not being believed, it really affects me.”

She is concerned that she got no further with her case, despite being well-equipped to pursue it. “I’m a white, middle-class woman. I can write, I could take time off work. What about other women?”