online safety tips 03

Dating on sites and apps is fun, but you should be wary of people who may not be who they appear to be, may take advantage of you or could cause you harm.

In recent weeks, we have received a number of reports of LGBTQ individuals who’ve been brutalised and robbed after meeting strangers via online dating services.

Here are some tips that could help you be safer.

1) What should I avoid?

Look out for stories or comments that contradict things the other person might have said before. Be aware of any lying and deceit. It could be minor, but they could be hiding more serious issues.

Avoid giving out your physical address too easily and to just any guy you meet online. Try to get to know him by chatting over a few days.

Avoid anyone that starts asking for some kind of financial assistance or money (unless, of course, this was something made clear up front and you are willing to pay for sex).

Don’t go to a hook-up without leaving some record of where you’re going. Ideally tell someone where you’re off to – even if it is just in a text message to a friend (don’t be shy to mention to your hook-up that you’ve done this before you leave).

Don’t leave expensive items lying around if you invite a stranger to your home. Put away any items of value – wallet, laptop, money, iPad etc.

Don’t get too drunk or high when going out or hooking up at a stranger’s place. Rather do this in a safe environment. If you’re drunk and/or high you are more likely to do things that may not be good for you.

Don’t do anything that you don’t feel comfortable doing. If it feels wrong, scary or dangerous, rather leave the situation.

2) What should I do?

Exchange phone numbers. Talk over the phone before meeting him.

Go with your gut and trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, then don’t take the risk.

Organise to first meet the guy in a public place, say for coffee or a drink, before hooking-up. Be seen with him by other people and if you feel comfortable then consider going home with him or taking him to your place.

If you meet him at a club or bar, introduce him to a friend and let your friend know that you’re leaving with the guy.

Be prepared. What will you do if the guy arrives and he turns out not to be who or what you expected or hoped for?

Be aware of your surroundings. Is there an opportunity for you to leave if he becomes aggressive? Are there people around?

Rather than inviting someone to your home or going to his, it is probably safer to meet him at a sex club or steam bath, where there are other people around.

Pay attention to where your drink is coming from. Is it being poured out of your sight, is it in an open bottle? Your drinks can be easily spiked leaving you unconscious or vulnerable.

Make sure that you have plenty of condoms and water-based lube at hand.

If you’re going to a guy’s place take your own condoms and water-based lube. Don’t assume that he will have this available.

Be concerned if the guy refuses to use condoms or water-based lube or won’t discuss his sexual health or history. Just because he’s stunning or you’re feeling hot n’ heavy doesn’t mean you should risk your health.

If you do end up having unsafe sex or your condom breaks, make sure you contact a gay-friendly clinic such as OUT’s TEN81 clinic (Pretoria) or a Health4Men clinic, or a doctor for a course of PEP within 72 hours to avoid becoming infected with HIV.

Report anyone who is a catfish (pretending to be someone else) to the site or service that you met him on. Help protect others.

3) What should I do if get attacked, blackmailed or robbed?

Remember, you have done nothing wrong. While you may feel partly to blame or embarrassed / ashamed that something happened while on a date, you are the victim. No one is entitled to hurt, attack, rob, humiliate or abuse you for any reason whatsoever – even if you were just hooking up for sex. You have the right to seek justice.

Deal with your health first. Make sure you get checked out and that you are physically okay. If you were raped and / or are concerned about HIV, ask a doctor or nurse or contact a gay-friendly clinic such as OUT’s TEN81 clinic (Pretoria) or a Health4Men clinic for a course of PEP within 72 hours to avoid becoming infected with HIV.

If you feel secure or safe enough, report what happened to the police. Be prepared to face a possible lack of interest or discriminatory behavior by officers, so go with a friend if you can.

Report the incident to the Love Not Hate campaign. They can assist you in following up your case and/or can provide you with general support and advice. (You do not have to have reported the incident to the police to contact them.)

You can also report the incident anonymously at South Africa’s first LGBT hate crime reporting site.

Get counseling or speak to someone about it. These incidents can take an emotional and psychological toll on any person.

Sharing it with someone (ideally a counselor) will help. Contact Love Not Hate, Triangle Project (Cape Town), OUT (Pretoria), Gay & Lesbian Network (PMB) or the Durban Lesbian & Gay Community & Health Centre to refer you to someone.