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Risks of online dating are still not being addressed, says Police Commissioner

Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa has today spoken of his concern at the lack of progress made in regulating the online dating industry which is putting vulnerable people at risk of sexual assault.

New figures show allegations of rape and sexual assault have risen in Derbyshire over the past three years – including the number of offences involving people meeting online.

The data, which was discussed at a meeting of the Strategic Governance Board today (27 June), reveals reports of rape rose from 316 in 2013/14 to 521 in 2015/16 while the number of sexual offences excluding rape rose from 576 in 2013/14 to 1,071 in 2015/16.

Although the figures highlight increased confidence in the public to report these crimes to the police, officers are concerned at increasing reports of rape and sexual assault involving victims who meet the perpetrators of their crimes online – and have highlighted the need for more education on the risks.

It is suggested one in three relationships now originates over the internet which experts say is partly due to the increase in online dating websites. However, the lack of industry regulation and vetting procedures of members has prompted calls for tighter controls.

Earlier this year, Jason Lawrance was jailed for 12.5 years at Derby Crown Court for raping five women he contacted on Match.com, three of which were from Derbyshire. Lawrance hid behind the guise of a single man looking for love to entice his victims into vulnerable situations.

Mr Dhindsa said: “We know from bitter experience that sex offenders use the internet to hide their true identity and predatory intentions and instil a greater degree of trust in their victims than they mightn’t otherwise do during an initial, face-to-face meeting.

“It’s vital that the users of these sites are safeguarded and that means narrowing the opportunity for these dangerous individuals to strike with robust vetting procedures. Every dating site should regard the safety of their clients with the utmost seriousness and take responsibility for this welfare in order to prevent the tragedies of the past.

“The progress in my eyes has not gone far enough and still too many vulnerable people are exposing themselves to dangers which could be avoided with comprehensive vetting and education of the risks. This is something that I’m keen to address.”

Derbyshire’s figures reflect the picture presented by the National Crime Agency’s Serious Crime Analysis Section (SCAS) which identified an increase in reports of serious sexual assaults carried out by strangers initiating online contact as the popularity of internet dating has increased.

Derbyshire’s figures show the majority of all rape victims are aged between 11 and 26 highlighting the importance of education in communicating the risks and wider issues of consent.

Currently, 16% of rape allegations in the county have a ‘positive justice outcome’, while the ‘positive outcome’ rate for sexual offences excluding rape stands at 25%. Both figures are slightly lower than they were in 2013/14 however it appears there are more offences where the victim has withdrawn support for police action in 2015/16.

Meanwhile, Derbyshire’s rape conviction rate has fluctuated over the past 12 months between 69.6% and 71.9% compared to the national rape conviction rate which is 57%.

The online dating issue has been raised with Derbyshire’s Domestic Violence/Serious Sexual Violence sub-group and board and is now included in an action plan to address.

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Posted on Monday 27th June 2016
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