A series of three murders in Tampa involving gay victims sparked concern about an increase in hate crimes, specifically targeting LGBTQ individuals.
Equality Florida has been in touch with the Tampa Police Department, and after further investigation, the police department has concluded they were not hate crimes. But the conversation did lead to the issue of increased crimes targeting those using online dating systems -- including individuals who are not openly-gay and won't alert police when they are victims of a crime.
Since our conversation, the Tampa Police Department’s LGBT Liaison has asked us to share a “Do’s & Dont’s of Online Dating” tip sheet with our members (see below).
Every person should always feel safe and free from discrimination and violence. But we know that the LGBTQ community - especially transgender women of color - face higher rates of assault. This is why we will continue working with law enforcement to help ensure the safety and respect of our community.
Tips from Tampa Police Department’s LGBT Liaison
Online Dating: Make Smart Choices and Reduce Your Chances of Becoming a Victim
The rise of online dating and intimate encounters has increased over the past decade. As a result, criminals have found new ways of luring victims. While online websites and apps present a convenient opportunity to meet people, they also present unique dangers. Here are some simple safety tips that can reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
1) Develop a Safety Plan. When you meet, plan how you intend to leave if things don't work out. Do you have access to immediate transportation? Do you have a cell phone? If you are inside a building do you know where the exits are? Do you know where help can be located or where you can find assistance?
2) Choose your location wisely. Never bring a stranger to your home and never go to someone else’s home until you feel comfortable that it is safe. Choose a neutral location. A public place is optimal for first time encounters. If you know this is a one-time meet choose a popular or reputable location that is staffed with security and cameras.
3) Share your plans with a friend. Telling others how you met your date and where you plan to meet is essential. Be sure to obtain a facial photo of your date and share the photo with a trusted friend. You might even text or email critical information to yourself. Use traditional methods of communication (texts, email, or phone calls) to share the information and try to avoid apps that delete the data after a specified amount of time. Data is useless if it can’t be recovered.
4) Photo check. If your date does not look like the photo, this should be a red flag. We all want to paint ourselves in the best light. Posting a photo of yourself 10 pounds lighter is one thing; putting up a completely fake photo is entirely different. If your date doesn’t match the photo you were provided, you should leave immediately.
5) Don’t be Flashy. Don't bring large amounts of cash and avoid bragging about success or travel in your online profiles. Phrases such as “successful upscale businessman in town looking for discreet weekend date”, show that you are less likely to know the area, less likely to tell others of your plan, and more likely to have expensive items with you. Showing the appearance of wealth and money presents a golden opportunity for criminals.
6) Hone in on your “Hink Meter.” This is the voice in the back of your head that tells you when something isn’t right. Sometimes, it is the gut feeling that tells us to avoid a dark alley with 4 sketchy fellas carrying baseball bats. The Hink meter is a sixth sense that lets you know that something is off. Don’t ignore your first instincts. It is always better to listen to them when they are happening rather than wish you did later.
7) Know your digits. Beware of dates that text or call you from different numbers. If the person has numerous phone numbers this could possibly be a red flag that the numbers are from pre-paid phones or internet apps that are used to conceal their real identity.
8) Don’t forget to “tech.” If you are savvy enough to use technology to find a date, then use it for safety as well. This includes bringing your phone, turning on your location services, checking in at safe locales, updating your social media to reflect you have a new date, texting friends when you arrive and when you intend to leave. All of these “tech” tools that keep us connected can also keep us safe.
While crimes such as battery, sexual assault, robbery and theft can arise from these types of encounter, by taking the necessary precautions you can decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim. If you are a victim of a crime that originates from online dating please promptly report it to your local law enforcement agency. Being honest and reporting offenses in a timely manner help police better investigate the crime and increases their chances of making an arrest and preventing future victims.