This article originally appeared on VICE Canada. As dating apps such as Tinder have become standard, some of us who’ve partaken have likely met up with a complete stranger before with little to no screening process. Going on a date with a stranger can be pretty nerve-wracking in terms of safety, which is why when I was using Tinder, I’d at least rifle through my suitor’s social media beforehand. Still, I got into some uncomfortable positions on Tinder dates (like this one time when my date wouldn’t stop dry-humping me on a club dance floor).
Though many of us have probably felt some level of uncomfortable on a date arranged via online dating, there’s the much scarier possibility of becoming the victim of a crime. On January 27, a man who called himself “Dante” online (real name Craig Levy, 31 years old) allegedly sexually assaulted a woman he met up with through online dating in Toronto. Cops have issued a warrant for his arrest; he’s wanted for sexual assault and forcible confinement. Alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur, who is charged with killing five men in Toronto, was also known to be active on dating sites.
Becoming the victim of a crime is obviously never someone’s fault, but crimes like those listed above are cause for everyone to take a look at how we can be proactive about our safety when using online dating apps.
As it happens, some sex workers have excellent practices on hand for screening people they meet online. So, I talked to one—Jane Way (who uses they/them pronouns)—about what the rest of us can learn from the practices escorts use to screen dates. Way said that, though these tips can translate to many people, it’s important to remember that screening is a privilege not every sex worker is afforded.
- Trust your gut. “My gut has never done me wrong,” Way said. “There are all kinds of red flags, and people will know their red flags specific to their experiences and their traumas around dating.”
- Reschedule and measure the potential date’s response. “If I’m having a weird feeling, I’ll ask if we can do 1:30 PM (instead of 1),” Way said. “If he doesn’t give me leeway, he might not give me leeway in the bedroom… He might say no to a condom; he might not listen to my ‘no's in session.”
- Ask to talk on the phone (and don’t accept calls from blocked numbers). “I want to see how willing they are to do things to make me feel comfortable,” Way said. Then, google their phone number. Sometimes a Facebook profile will even be attached to a phone number.
- Location and transportation control. “If some guy is like ‘Hey, I’ll pick you up and we can go to dinner,’ say, ‘No I’ll meet you there.’ If he has a problem with that, that’s a big red flag.”
- Ask for personal information. While Way said that johns in Canada are stigmatized because because it’s illegal to buy sex but not illegal to sell it, everyday people going on dates shouldn’t be scared to provide some info about themselves in order to make a potential date feel comfortable: where they work, verification of their identity (such as in the form of an ID), social media accounts. “People should be more willing to give up more information in a civilian context,” Way said.
- Look at all their social media accounts, including LinkedIn.
- Ask for a "safe call" from a friend. “If we’re going to an outcall, we’ll say ‘I’m going to be here for a call between this time and this time. I’ll text you when I get there, and I’ll text you when I leave.’” Way said. “If my friend says, ‘I’ll text you at 7:10 when I get there,’ and I don’t hear from her, I get worried.” Having code words or phrases set up with your friend to signal that you’re in danger is best in case a date goes awry.
- “Have some excuses in your head,” Way said. Think about excuses you can give to potentially get out of a situation. Have someone call you and make an excuse for why you have to leave, such as saying you have to go watch their pet or child or that there is an emergency.
- Put away money and valuables if you’re having someone over to your home.
- Documentation. Way recalled their first call ever: “I was dirt poor and basically crashing on couches. It was the middle of the night; I posted an ad on Backpage.” Way said that, as a precaution, they took pictures of their client’s license plate and checked his ID before driving off with him.
“Whatever you do to feel safe when you’re going on a date with someone and meeting them for the first time, it doesn’t matter how ridiculous it seems to them,” Way said. “If they let you take those steps to feel safe to further the encounter with them, that’s a good sign.” Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.