Would Proposed Utah Law Make Online Dating Safer? – Deseret News

Frank Walser was matched with a woman on a dating app and planned to meet her at a climbing gym. He arrived early for the appointment and was approached by a woman he didn’t recognize. They had a brief conversation, then the woman told him that she was, in fact, his date.

“I got catfished,” said Walser, a Utah resident and now former user of the dating app.

Walser said the woman looked nothing like the pictures online. When he confronted her, she shared her own insecurities. He offered to take the woman out to eat. She had lied about being a climber and her interests, so they had to find something else to do.

“I was just trying to be a good guy,” he said. But the interaction led to him being harassed on social media and in his personal life.

Even with good intentions, online dating apps come with a risk.

In the 2023 legislative session, House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, has once again proposed a bill to combat risk, fraud and potential violence ranging from the hand of online dating. HB18 acts to protect people who use online dating apps.

Last year, the Deseret News ran an article about the dating app dilemma. The article highlights an example of a sexual predator, the difficulties of creating genuine connections on dating apps, and some of the security features that dating apps use. These safety features, however, are not always sufficient and are not currently required by the state.

In November 2022, Brigham Young University professors published a study discover disturbing trends related to online dating. The study showed that from 2017 to 2020, 14 percent of rapes committed in Utah occurred during an initial encounter arranged through online dating apps.

Assaults committed in relation to online dating apps are more likely to be more violent, with significant numbers of women reporting strangulation and chest injuries.

College students are the most likely survivors in these cases, and men are nearly twice as likely to experience online dating-related assaults.

“I’ve been a representative for 10 years and most of my legislation has focused on sexual assault, child sexual abuse, human trafficking and domestic violence,” Romero said.

He said the bill looks like a next step for public safety and an important step for generations to come.

“That’s the way people meet people these days,” Romero said.

The bill would ensure that dating apps used in Utah have pop-up safety ads, that promote responsible behavior such as sharing your location with a trusted friend or family member, have a way to get out of the situation if necessary and other safety precautions.

“We’re just trying to remind people that if you don’t have consent, that’s called sexual assault,” Romero said.

The bill will also make resources more accessible and available to help survivors if assault or rape occurs.

Romero said she is dedicated to reducing sexual assault and rape statistics by creating a safer online dating environment. Utah’s rape rate is higher than the national average, he said.

“The other piece is just reminding people to have a plan when you’re meeting someone for the first time,” she said.

Romero said subtle reminders can have an impact on how dating app users react and approach meeting strangers.

This bill is the first step in addressing the safety of dating apps, Romero said. In the future, he hopes to continue creating a safer environment for dating apps and online dating.

“For me, it’s really about the education piece,” he said.

Some, however, don’t think the bill is enough. Walser wonders if it would work and how it will be monitored.

“I understand that it’s trying to make dating more secure,” he said, but ultimately it’s “the company’s job to implement those protocols.”

“People should be aware and there should be things involved, but I don’t see how the state can regulate it. It should bring stricter regulations,” he said.

Walser agrees that education is needed for dating apps, but the bill, he said, simply isn’t enough.

He offered other ideas, such as having a panic button, similar to ride-sharing companies, on the dating app that automatically calls for help.

Walser also said that having a short video clip of real stories about those who have gone through negative online dating experiences could be helpful.

Sharing the risks associated with online dating apps before allowing access can help educate users. Walser also suggested that apps provide a link on preventative measures for those who choose to continue their education.

Users, Walser said, either read or neglect to read the terms and conditions and don’t care to read the notices.

“Security awareness notifications” will be just that: a notification that is rejected, he said, and would not be enough to adequately make a difference in how the online dating world works.

Walser also questioned how the bill can track progress toward safety, especially when many assaults and rape cases go unreported.

“This bill is just a little bit,” Walser said. “It’s air. It’s nothing that’s actionable.”

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