Women Opinion

It’s not dating apps that harm women — it’s the men on them

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Thousands of rapes have been linked to dating apps, but date-rape isn't new (Image by SHVETS Production | Pexels)

This year's International Women's Day theme, 'Cracking the Code', focuses on innovation to combat discrimination. But, if we want a gender-equal future, we need a new code whereby men respect women, writes Kirra Spiteri, Suzy McGregor and Tamzen Armer.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape

IN 1995, "she" was sexually assaulted by a man she met on a dating app. Except, of course, she didn’t meet him on an app. She met him the way people did 28 years ago — through friends, or at work, or a bar. Besides, it actually doesn’t matter how she met him. She was sexually assaulted by a man.

You see, "date rape," as it was called then, isn’t new. It doesn’t happen because people are using dating apps. The truth is that men have always harassed, stalked, assaulted, raped and killed women they’ve met at bars, bookshops, churches and universities. Men choose to harm women. It’s that simple.

And yet, somehow, she still gets blamed — especially if the assault ties in with a dating app such as Tinder. She doesn’t use the apps with the intention of getting hurt — she uses them because that’s how people meet now. She uses them because society tells her that a woman should be trying to find a man. She uses them because, surely, it’s her right to date and still be safe.

This year’s UN Women Australia’s International Women’s Day theme is 'Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender-equal future'. (International Women's Day is celebrated annually around the world on 8 March.)

"Cracking the code" highlights the role that bold, transformative ideas and inclusive technologies can play in advancing equality. So, in the spirit of this year’s theme, let’s innovate to make dating safer.

She’s always been innovative, though, hasn’t she? From sharing her location with her friends, ensuring everyone knows the time she’s expected to return home and then announcing she’s home safe. She’s even carried keys between her knuckles, avoided going out at night, ensured all her dates were in very public places, covered her drinks, ordered angel shots and asked for Angela. And yet, despite all best efforts, women are still harmed by men.

In 2019, she did the "right" things: she met him in public, she told someone where she was and she always had her keys within reach. But still, she was sexually assaulted by a man she met on a dating app.

She had no reason not to trust him. He told her how much he wanted to find his soulmate. He told her about his white picket fence dream. He waved society’s expectation of a woman in her face, enticing her to believe she was safe. And then he chose to take it all away from her... the white picket fence and her safety.

In 2021, he was back on the app, supposedly still looking for his soulmate. This story could be different with innovation: through robust verification systems and criminal checks. Instead, the privacy of a man seems to be valued higher than the safety of a woman.

And, yes, not all rapists are men, but let’s acknowledge that 97 per cent of sexual assault offenders are male. Women can rape, but the extremely small rate of sexual assaults perpetrated by women is not a counterargument. It should be discussed, but not with the intention of derailing conversations about the prevalence of men’s violence against women. And surely, if apps are problematic and we innovate to make them safer, that will be a win for everyone.

When she was assaulted in 1995, the rhetoric around consent was that "no means no". She thought that if men were to hear it, they would understand it and respect it. She thought "no means no" would end date rape and violence against women.

However, still in 2023, 28 years later, nothing has changed. To her, "no means no" means nothing. She knows it’s not dating apps that are the problem — it’s the men on them. She’s still seeking protection orders from the police against the men she meets on Tinder.

In 2023, we need innovative approaches to highlight how men’s violence is made invisible. While we’re cracking the code to make dating apps safer, we’re distracted from where the real harm lies.

She didn’t "find herself in a sticky situation on a Tinder date" — she found a violent man who chose to harm her.

If we genuinely want to innovate for a gender-equal future, we need a new code: one in which attitudes change, victim blaming stops and men respect, not harm, women.

What’s going to happen to her in 2024?

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online

Kirra Spiteri is a nurse and student currently majoring in politics and policy and international relations. She is a passionate advocate of human rights and member of the Amnesty Australia Feminist Network. You can follow Kirra on Twitter @spiterikirra.

Suzy McGregor is a learning strategy consultant specialising in leadership and project management. She is interested in eliminating violence against women and gender equity in the workplace and is an active member of the Amnesty International Australia Activist Skills Collective.

Tamzen Armer is a member of the Amnesty Australia Feminist Network. She has a personal and professional interest in women's rights, particularly the right to live free from violence and experience equal access to education and health care.

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