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Internet Predators

When I hear the term internet predator, my first thought goes to the stereotypical scenario of children being lured by pedophiles to meet. While those stories are horrifying and occur far too often, there are many other victims of online predators. People have been charged with assaults while using various social media apps and dating websites to contact potential victims. Using fake names and identities, these people lure victims to meet under false pretenses and then assault them.

In Cleveland, Jeffery Redden used the dating website “Plenty of Fish” to find his victims. Redden contacted a woman using that dating website, they met for dinner, and then he sexually assaulted her. The next morning, Redden sent her a series of text messages referencing the night before. Redden pled guilty to abduction and gross sexual imposition; he must also register as a sex offender. Plenty of Fish does not run background checks or any sort of security for its members. On their website, they offer a “Dating Safety Tips” webpage that gives, in my opinion, common sense ways to stay safe on date. For example, always meeting in public and to share your plans with friends or family. Every member that signs up basically has to assume the risk that someone they meet could potentially sexually assault them and Plenty of Fish does almost nothing to minimize that risk. (http://www.cleveland19.com/story/25841219/convic) (http://www.pof.com/safety.aspx)

In Chicago, Karon Godbold used the social media app “Tagged” to meet his victim. Tagged is an app that allows users to meet and talk with new people through various shared interests, games, and suggesting friends. The victim met with Godbold and he drove them to a forest preserve in Chicago Heights. Godbold then pulled out a gun and forcibly raped the victim at gun point. Godbold used the fake name “Maurice Jones” on the Tagged app. As with Plenty of Fish, Tagged does not run any kind of background check on its users. It offers a “Dating Safety” link that goes into a little more detail of warning signs that people should be aware of. It is just too easy to become a victim using these kind of apps because of the ability to use fake names, fake personalities, and ability to hide any criminal behavior. (http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2013/12/05/man-charged-with-sexually-assaulting-woman-he-met-online/) (https://support.tagged.com/hc/en-us/articles/202632004-Dating-Safety)

I understand that each user has to sign or check a box to agree to the Terms and Services of these dating websites or apps that eliminate any liability. However, I think these websites and apps should be more accountable especially if their members are paying to use their services. Part of their membership dues should be going to safety precautions such as background checks. The threat of a background check would deter many of these predators from even trying to join these websites or apps and would reduce the amount of sexual assaults in these situations. The user should not assume all of the risk and there should be legal consequences for these websites and apps that do nothing to stop criminal behavior. Victims should be allowed to sue the websites and apps for damages, but I know that is an unrealistic consequence. For now, websites and apps can turn a blind eye to any criminal behavior and potential victims assume all of the risk.

Mallorie Thomas