By Lindsey White
Paige Skaufel, sophomore history major, fixes her hair in the mirror and puts on her favorite outfit. Her phone dings with a text from her date letting her know he is waiting outside for her. With high hopes, she gets in his car, only to find the man she met on Tinder is much different than what she expected.
“After meeting up with him, I made an excuse to go back to campus,” Skaufel said.
According to a report released by Statista, 51 percent of college students used dating apps as of 2017. Due to lack of face-to-face interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, college students have found online dating an alternative way to make new connections. The parent company that controls 60 percent of the dating app market, called Match Group, reported a 15 percent increase in downloads since the lockdown in March 2020.
Skaufel said during her time using dating apps, she met many matches where conversation was respectful, light, and fun.
“I’ve also met really nice people on there who I am still friends with today,” she said.
However, the increase in dating app usage gives rise to new questions regarding the safety of meeting people in person after only talking to them online.
When meeting someone in person, students receive signals that inform a first impression, such as eye contact, body language, and tone of voice. Online dating eliminates those factors, leaving users only an image and a text message to discern who someone is. Intuition can easily be manipulated by online predators, said Jamie Cathcart, Trevecca’s Title IX Coordinator.
“Many women will understand this gut reaction you get to somebody that is off, makes you feel kind of weird, or feels creepy, and you can’t gauge that in messaging,” she said.
According to data from an ABODO survey, 27 percent of college students who use dating apps report being harassed. Reports on harassment include unwanted sexual images, sexual messages, and stalking. People who have a history of harassment or criminal behavior find that creating an online profile hides their identity.
“Online dating is a good place for those personalities that might be a red flag right away in an in-person environment to really get a lot farther in relationships than they probably would otherwise,” said Cathcart.
There are some protective methods and red flags to be aware of, she said.
“My red flags are whenever I start talking to someone and they try to make the conversation sexual in any way, it’s just all about them and there’s never any questions asked about me, or they don’t want to get to know me right away and just want to meet up as soon as possible,” said Skaufel.
Cathcart advises students to be cautious of anyone who dismisses requests or pushes boundaries.
“You have the right to end an interaction with somebody for any reason if they make you feel uncomfortable. You don’t owe anybody anything if they are not respecting your boundaries,” she said.
After connecting with someone online, meeting them in person is the natural next step. Experts advise to always plan the date to be in a public place — such as a coffee shop or restaurant — and arrange your own transportation. Use an unidentifiable phone number until you have built trust with that person and always tell your friends where you are going.
Miller Folk, assistant director of the counseling center, suggests students take advantage of resources on campus if they need to talk about something that has happened to them.
The 3 C’s – the clinic, the counseling center, and the chaplain – are confidential resources on campus for students.