Recently, The Sunday Times (UK) reported that “ Dating apps including Tinder and Grindr have failed to prevent child sexual exploitation on their platforms, in part due to weak age verification measures.” To the platforms mentioned in the article, I might also mention the site, Skout.com.
The irony is that when we research the topic of sexual abuse stemming from online dating apps, those “invested” in the dating industry will claim that there is no correlation between the widespread use of dating apps and sexual abuse. However, more neutral reports and many first-person experiences, paint a decidedly different picture.
Dating Apps – Skout
Skout is an online dating app theoretically geared toward college-age students hoping to meet other college-age students. The images and copy on the site are aspirational of course, where young men and women are shown partying, pairing off, drinking and generally enjoying life. The Skout app is presumably the gateway to all of this. The promise of a great relationship and great fun is only a click away. It is mostly “fine” for 18-year-old (and older) individuals; presumably, young men and women who have at least some sense of themselves. However, when we get into the possibilities of underaged sexual abuse, there are ethical problems going unaddressed.
In Philadelphia, a 14-year-old girl who used the Skout app was raped by a 28-year-old man. For his part, the man is looking at charges of rape, statutory sexual assault and contact with a minor. While I would not blame the victim for the assault, it needs to be noted that she posed as an older teenager and she agreed to meet with the rapist. She brought along her 19-year-old cousin who apparently went along with the deception.
After meeting the man in the park, the three went back to his hope. The cousin left and the girl was raped. It was at that moment when the 14-year-old went back to being a girl and not the older individual she had postured to be.
After the police searched the man’s home, they discovered illegal weapons.
The creators of the dating app Skout issued the following, brief statement:
“This is a horrendous crime, and our thoughts go out to the victim and her family. We strive to maintain a safe environment on Skout. We use industry-leading automated processes and human moderators, devote nearly half of our entire workforce solely to moderation and safety, and devote considerable financial resources to prevent and remove minors and other problematic behavior on our apps…We don’t want minors on Skout and we devote significant resources to prevent it.”
While I must tread very lightly and carefully here, a mature-looking 14-year-old who represents herself as being older, who has abused the dating app, has certainly done herself no favors. The fact that her 19-year-old cousin allegedly went along with it, further compounds this incident.
And again, while “No means no” under all conditions, the young teenager, coupled with the deception and the inappropriate use of the dating app made for the possibility that something like this would happen. While I have no way of proving this, I would have no doubt that like Tinder and Grindr, Skout has had its share of sexual abuse cases that young women and men have been far too afraid to report.
While Skout has issued the usual apologies to the family and stonewalled its culpability by explaining how widespread the use of their app has become, they along with the parents share ethical blame as well.
It is easy to use the app. It is easy to fake an age.
While Skout may be able to let itself off any ethical hooks, I again wonder where the parents and the cousin of this girl were in all of this. The smartphone industry has convinced us all that our children would be “utterly devastated” without these devices. That said, at what point has the industry convinced parents that they give up all control over the apps that kids place on their phones? A 14-year-old has no business with an adult dating app on her phone. She invited trouble and she got it.
The rapist clearly is responsible for his actions, but the lack of oversite along with twisted parental rationalization hardly did this girl any favors.
Your comments are welcome!