What to do if you experience harassment on dating apps

Erin Jensen
USA TODAY

Published 1:25 PM EST Feb 27, 2020

Sometimes swiping right leads to Mr./Mrs. Wrong. 

According to findings from the Pew Research Center published this month, harassment is an issue plaguing some who look for love online. 

Some 37% of online dating users say someone on a dating site or app continued to contact them even after he or she said they weren’t interested in communicating, the study found. Breaking down negative encounters, 35% of users say someone on a dating site or app sent them a sexually explicit message or image they did not ask for. Nearly 30% say they have been called an offensive name and about 10% say someone threatened to physically harm them.

The number of unwanted incidents jumps for younger women (18 to 34) and those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB), according to Pew. More than half of young women (57%) and LGB (56%) users report getting a sexually explicit message they did not ask for.

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Though dating destinations like Match Group (parent company of Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, Match and more) and Bumble commendably have “zero-tolerance” policies when it comes to harassment, instances can still occur. 

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and dating/relationship coach Rachel Dack says regarding “anything that makes you uncomfortable, it’s essential to speak up and set boundaries.” 

She suggests expressing “something like, ‘I don’t think we’re a match, and I don’t want to waste your time. So, I think it’s best if we move forward separately, and I wish you the best in your search.’ “

If the person persists, Dack advises reiterating your desire to disconnect “more firmly, and then you can decide if you want to take more serious measures such as blocking or reporting.”

Dr. Kelly Campbell, Professor of Psychology at California State University, San Bernardino says police can also be a resource. If you find yourself on the receiving end of digital harassment, she recommends capturing evidence with the use of screenshots and by noting dates and details of the incidents.

Both Dack and Campbell acknowledge each situation is unique and a person should do what’s appropriate for them. This writer is a self-identified avoider, for example, who immediately unmatched a person who opened with an explicit message about using her body. Did I do myself a disservice by abstaining from communicating my dissatisfaction?

“Everyone has to do what’s right for them,” Campbell says. “The reason I’m not gonna just let it slide is because then I’m internalizing what just happened, and it’s in my body, and it’s in me, and it’s not right for that person to have had an effect on me in that way.

“For (some) it may feel more appropriate to say nothing and to just block them,” she adds. 

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Sometimes harassers will lash out if you try to correct their behavior. Dack sees this is confirmation that you “clearly did the right thing by establishing this boundary and trusting your gut that something was off and this person’s behavior was not aligned with what you’re seeking in a partner and to continue to take those red flags seriously.

“And I think, at that point, it’s probably best to disengage,” she says. “As much as we want to control or teach or change people, it’s a myth or an illusion that we can.”

She suggests “while walking away knowing that you gave it your best shot” to contemplate interactions and see if there are any lessons to be learned, “like maybe you sort of saw some warning signs from the beginning, but you kept the communication going for too long ‘cause you were scared to cut it off.” 

As far as tips for the best dating app experience, in addition to speaking up and disengaging after inappropriate behavior, Dack believes in limiting conversation to the platform “until you establish healthy rapport and you have a better sense of who you’re communicating with.”

Though she acknowledges this can be tough, she stresses this person is, after all, “still a stranger. So you want to be really careful and deliberate about your pace. There’s no reason to give out your cellphone number the first night you talk or your personal email.”

Dack also recommends not letting the disappointing interactions halt your online dating efforts.

“Even though these situations happen, and again they’re very challenging and uncomfortable, it’s not worth letting someone else (quell) your desire to find love and to utilize online dating websites.”

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