Nearly three-quarters of Australian dating app users have been subjected to sexual violence in some form through the technology, according to a new report which calls on tech companies to embed “safety by design”.

The Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC) Sexual harassment, aggression and violence victimisation among mobile dating app and website users in Australia report involved a survey of just under 10,000 Australians who have used mobile dating apps or websites, such as Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and Grindr, in the last five years.

It found that 72.3 percent of those surveyed had been subjected to online dating app facilitated sexual violence (DAFSV), including sexual harassment, being sent unsolicited sexual images, abusive language and online stalking.

A third of the dating app users had been subjected to in-person sexual violence perpetrated by someone they had met via a dating app, and these people often experienced repeat victimisation, the report found.

The rates of DAFSV were particularly high among LGB+ communities.

Of those who had experienced at least one form of online DAFSV, just under 70 percent had experience sexual harassment, nearly half were contacted again by someone after saying they weren’t interested, 40 percent were sent a sexual image when they didn’t ask for them, 45 percent were subjected to abusive and threatening language and 27 percent were stalked online.

Of these people, 60 percent were subjected to multiple forms of online sexual violence.

This sexual violence also translated to the offline world, with one in three of those surveyed subjected to DAFSV by someone they met on an app.

Of these, more than a quarter were subjected to sexual assault or coercion, 14 percent experienced stalking and 10 percent had their drinks spiked.

The rates of DAFSV were found to be much higher among LGB+ men and women compared to heterosexual respondents.

The report called on the tech firms behind these dating apps to prioritise the safety of their users.

“The high levels of online and in-person DAFSV reported here demonstrate the need for mobile dating apps and websites to embed Safety by Design principles in their development processes,” the report said.

These safety features should include ensuring that reporting processes are accessible and easy to use, the banning of perpetrators from creating new accounts by using multi-level identity verification and the use of artificial intelligence to censor explicit images.

Tinder last year launched a voluntary feature allowing users to obtain a blue verification tick if they provide valid identification.

Last year, Bumble also launched an artificial intelligence feature to automatically identify and blur explicitly images, and started to provide free online trauma support to users who had experienced sexual assault or relationship abuse.

“We hold everyone on Bumble accountable for their actions,” a Bumble spokesperson said in response to the report.

“Any instances of violence, harassment or abuse is unacceptable to us and we do not hesitate to permanently remove perpetrators from our platform. We take our block and report tool very seriously and have made it easy for our members to report any behaviour that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe to us so that we can take action.”

The AIC survey also found that one in eight (12.4 percent) of dating app users had been asked by other users on the platform to facilitate the sexual exploitation of children. This included being asked for sexual information about their child or a child they knew, and for sexual videos and pictures.

In a statement, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said the findings are “shocking and unacceptable” and called on the dating app providers to keep users safe through adequate reporting mechanisms, support for victims and policies to hold perpetrators to account.

Dreyfus said the report’s findings will inform the government’s policy-making going forward.

“It is clear perpetrators are exploiting loopholes to access children through dating apps,” Dreyfus said.
“Platforms which bring together strangers have an important role to play in facilitating safe connections and not providing new avenues for perpetrators to exploit and harm others.

“User beware is not a good enough safety approach from dating apps.

“We need to see developers adopt safety by design principles, so platforms are preventing harm in the first place.”