Suing To Screen Suitors?

I first read about a recent lawsuit from a link my friend Sarah shared about a woman suing one of the main dating websites, Match.com, but then continued to read another article from the LA Times about it. I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about the incident, which we’ll get to in a second. April does happen to be Sexual Assault Awareness month (as well as STI month). As someone who has been volunteering for a sexual assault non-profit for five years, I tend to side with the survivor. Here’s what allegedly happened: 

In this case, a woman (up until mid-April her identity was protected and she was known simply as “Jane Doe”; she recently spoke out publicly) met a guy on Match.com. He seemed nice enough, so they planned a second date. Following the second date, the guy followed her home and assaulted her. Sadly, this is not that rare, but how it seems to be playing out may set some precedent – or at least get some attention. Instead of just taking her attacker to court, Jane Doe is suing Match.com. After she was assaulted, she looked up her attacker on Google to find that she was not the first woman he had assaulted.

Image courtesy of Softpedia (mac.softpedia.com)

I find this interesting because I have two separate friends who were sexually assaulted by someone they met on Craigslist. One was for a date, and the other for an apartment (and I highly doubt that my two friends are rare cases, sadly).

Is meeting someone online necessarily a bad thing? I’m a little disturbed that Match.com is defending itself by explaining that they share “Safety Tips” as a person could follow every single one and still be assaulted; the majority of survivors know their perpetrator. Also, while Match.com has terms of service (such as minors and married individuals can’t sign up), how are they enforced? For married individuals, what is stopping them from signing up?

Despite this, I do agree with one of Jane Doe’s demands of Match.com; she wants the web site to check to see if members’ names are any sex offender registries and they have agreed to do so. As the LA Times notes Doe saying, it’s not a guarantee against future assaults. However, it’s a step in a good and responsible directions and I think many sites could easily do this. Unfortunately, just because someone’s name is not found on a sex offender registry doesn’t mean that they’ve never assaulted anyone; the majority of perpetrators will never end up on a registry. Damon Brown points out that screening like this can be negative, and actually a slippery slope. He explains that it may lead to more “safer” sites, but can lead to screening for other things (what if a site refused to allow you to join if you had a bankruptcy in your past?). I agree with his point about how to keep this information private but I do think some steps in a protective direction are helpful.

I also don’t feel that dating web sites are necessarily bad. People use them for lots of different reasons, and I know many people who have had positive outcomes. I also know many individuals who have been assaulted by someone they knew for years such as a medical doctor, a family member, etc.

I think it’s unfair to blame the survivor, Carol Marcum. As she pointed out in an article from TBD, she never thought she would be dating a criminal. Who does, though? When I met my significant other, I hoped and expected that he would be a good guy (spoiler alert: I was right). When one of my close friends dated an abusive partner, she never imagined that her girlfriend would one day hit her. Maybe I’m a little too Pollyanna, but I believe people are mostly good. I think that there are lots of good people out there, as well as good people who have made mistakes (such as having poor credit, etc) and there are those bad people out there too. No one has a label on their forehead telling you that they have an STI, so why would they if they are a perpetrator?

Do you think Match.com screening against a sex offender registry will work? Is it a good idea? How can people protect themselves in general when dating, but especially when using dating websites?

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About Holly Moyseenko

Holly Moyseenko is a sex educator living in Ohio. She is an advocate of positive and healthy sexuality. Holly currently works for a non-profit health organization as a health educator, and also teaches workshops that focus on many topics within the realm of healthy sexuality. In her spare time, she also is an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, gardens, reads anything within reach, drinks copious amounts of tea, and naps with her two dogs.