Over 70% of dating app users in Australia have received or experienced some sort of sexual threat, according to a new survey. A third of those also noted that they had felt sexually coerced. Lawmakers in Australia are discussing the issue as one of regulating the data apps industry.
Every year the online dating industry makes roughly $5 billion. Worldwide there are about 300 million people who use dating apps, with women twice as likely as men to be swiped on (an action indicating interest). That might seem like a great thing if you’re a woman. Unfortunately, that extra attention also comes with a dark side, as this survey indicates.
Just under half of all women in the dating sphere will receive uncomfortable material at some point – unsolicited photos, threats of violence, etc. And yes, whilst sexual violence amongst queer individuals is more likely than amongst heterosexuals, that does not mean that the problem is confined to one group.
The problem of violence perpetrated against users of these apps and sites has become so extreme that the Australian government has been forced to intervene. The immediate fix seems to be to blame the dating companies, as Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has done:
“I am calling on the online dating platform industry to develop a voluntary code of practice for online dating services…if the code is not delivered, or does not deliver the improvements that are being sought…I will not hesitate to take further action including regulatory and legislative measures.”
The statement seems a simple ask, yet most major sites like Tinder and Hinge already have an informal code of conduct. This extends to those same companies enforcing their codes of conduct, which search for and ban offensive individuals and illicit content. Both the above-mentioned sites, owned by Match Group, take advice from experts including rape survivor advocates, social science lecturers and psychiatrists. The Match Group Advisory Council (MGAC) consists primarily of women.
Perhaps it should be considered by governments, keen not to antagonise this highly lucrative industry, that issues around sexual violence have long predated online dating, and it is not solely the fault of apps like Tinder, which do not create the circumstances that inspire sexual violence. These apps simply service a culture of misogyny and objectification that already exists.
Online dating has been shown to have a largely negative effect on the mental health of men. Those prone to sexual violence and misogyny have several online locations that work as breeding grounds for hateful commentary against women. One location is the community Men’s Rights on Reddit where frequent discussions show men making derogatory and hateful comments against women, particularly those who regard any male as a potential rapist.
It is not surprising that sexual violence is on the rise, when consent is barely discussed in schools nor is there any active engagement by organisations to encourage a dialogue surrounding consent and healthy sexual relationships. Many parents still think it is their right to prevent their children from taking part in sex education, and society as a whole continues to push young people into gendered lifestyles which maintain some kind of norm.
No statements have been issued by any of the major dating sites. Tinder did not respond to our request for a comment. The whole issue around attitudes toward women, sexual violence and appropriate ways to teach sexuality remains a subject which only reaches the public arena when a celebrity finds themselves in the glare of the public eye. For the millions of ordinary women around the world access to newspapers to tell their story is rarely available.
We need a completely different type of society, where every aspect of our lives, including sex and sexuality, are no longer commodified. Such a society would have the task of finding a way of educating people, predominantly male, into a way of living that did not prioritise their individual urges over the lives of their victims. That society is unlikely to emerge spontaneously when sex and sexuality are still treated as something of which we should be ashamed and where parents with illiberal views can remove their children from any form of sex education.