British Columbia

Critics say VPD's online dating safety advice too focused on victims

Campaign ignores men's responsibility as perpetrators, women's shelter spokesperson says

October 05, 2017

Critics of a new online dating safety campaign from Vancouver police say it focuses too much on women's vulnerability and not enough on men's responsibility. (CBC)

Critics of a new online dating safety campaign from Vancouver police say it misses an important opportunity to address the role men play in sexual assault.

Angela Marie MacDougall, the executive director of Battered Women's Support Services, says the campaign focuses too much on the things victims — mainly women — do wrong and not enough on the perpetrators.


"Most of it reads as if it's the responsibility of the woman, which is so disappointing in the 21st century," MacDougall said.

"We have to understand that when men decide to sexually assault women, that is a choice and that is a misuse of power in a relationship and for the Vancouver Police Department to miss that opportunity as leaders ... is disappointing."

New online contexts

Vancouver police say they've seen an increase in recent years of reports of sexual assault in connection to online dating, but it's hard to say for certain whether that's due to the nature of online dating or simply its increasing popularity.

Marina Adshade is a UBC economist and author who has done extensive research into the perils of modern love. She says many of the situations identified by the VPD can just as easily happen when people meet through more traditional means.

"There's nothing new about women being scared for their safety," she said.

What is new, says MacDougall, is that dating apps provide a new environment explicitly focused on romantic interactions, which can embolden some people.

"There's a real sense of escalating the conversations to sexual content early in the conversation ... that wouldn't happen in the physical environment," she said. "That creates a context where the sexual coercion can escalate to sexual assault easily and quickly."

"The men that are doing sexual violence ... are not predators. They are everyday men that are finding a way to use the more trusting environment."

Go with your gut

Advice from the VPD included chatting with potential matches before meeting in real life to get a sense of who they are. But Adshade said that, from a safety standpoint, there is such a thing as waiting too long.

"Sometimes, when people postpone, for long periods of time, meeting, but they're constantly talking on the phone and texting, it gives people a sense of security that they actually know the other person," Adshade said.

She said this can result in situations where a person misrepresents themselves and ends up asking for money or otherwise defrauding their supposed match.

"When you don't meet somebody, you don't see them face to face, it's actually very difficult to judge them," she said.

Adshade also noted a lack of focus on the safety of men meeting up with other men.

"I think that's unfortunate, especially in a city like Vancouver," she said. "Men are often as exposed as women are, and I don't think we should ignore that."

With files from CBC Radio One's B.C. Almanac.

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