Dating apps are now the most common way to meet a partner and the government is determined that online dating platforms be committed to ending violence against women.
Earlier this year, industry leaders met to combat safety issues from dating app providers.
The National Roundtable on Online Dating Safety brought together expert voices from the online dating industry, state and territory governments, law enforcement, academia and non-government organisations to examine ways to better protect Australians when using online dating and matchmaking services.
The Minister for Communications, the Hon. Michelle Rowland MP, convened the event alongside the Minister for Social Services, the Hon Amanda Rishworth MP.
Minister Rowland said every Australian deserves to live free from harassment and all forms of violence, including when using online dating and matchmaking services.
“Governments and online dating industry have a responsibility to protect Australians when using matchmaking services; the responsibility should not be placed on victims.”
She reiterated the scale and impact of tech-based abuse in Australia today is unacceptable and the Albanese Government is taking action to end this violence by addressing its root causes.
Minister Rowland said policy options to prevent sexual abuse and violence on online dating services raise complex issues around privacy, user safety and data collection and management.
“That is why it is critical for government’s actions in this space to be evidence-based and informed. The roundtable on online dating safety that I convened this year is the first step in the collaborative effort to better keep Australians safe.”
Rise in online abuse
In October 2022, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) released a report revealing that three in every four survey respondents had been subjected to sexual violence facilitated via dating apps in the last five years.
Use of mobile dating apps has increased exponentially over the years, and to date, there have been very few primary studies exploring the prevalence and nature of technology-facilitated sexual violence.
Sexual harassment was the most common form of behavior reported, as well as abusive and threatening language, and unsolicited sexual images.
One in three survey respondents were subjected to in-person dating app facilitated sexual violence (DAFSV), perpetrated by someone they met in person after communicating on a dating app or website.
This included sexual assault or coercion and sexual-health related abuse and in-person image-based sexual abuse.
AIC Deputy Director Dr Rick Brown said the research also shows that DAFSV was experienced much more frequently among LGBTIQ+ men and women compared to heterosexual participants.
“This study aims to address these gaps in knowledge and provide valuable information that can assist in the development of policies and practices to prevent this kind of violence from occurring,” Dr Brown said.
More needs to be done
Minister Rowland has since written to the top 10 dating apps and websites used by Australians to request more information about the harms occurring on their platforms, and the policies and processes they have in place to keep users safe.
Their responses will inform what further action Government needs to take in this space.
“We know there is more to be done. We’ll continue to put pressure on online dating services to be transparent about the safety of their users, and make clear that these services must do more to prevent sexual harassment and abuse facilitated by their platforms.”
She has sought a range of information from the dating apps including;
· the number of user reports received from Australians about sexual harassment and abuse that they experienced while using the service or reported following a date.
· the actions that platforms take in response to reports such as user bans, referrals to police or support services, or other actions.
· the processes that platforms have in place to prevent banned users from creating new accounts.
Dating apps take up the challenge
Since the Roundtable summit, Minister Rowland said she was pleased to see some of Australia’s popular dating apps introducing new measures to improve user safety and prevent perpetrators from exploiting their platforms to do harm.
Match Group – one of the largest operators of the global portfolio of popular online dating services including Tinder, Match.com, Meetic, OkCupid, Hinge, PlentyOfFish – has started to roll out several safety product features.
A spokesperson for Match Group said safety guides everything the group does, and the company shares the Australian government’s commitment to strengthen Australians’ safety.
“We are developing new and effective safety tools because our investments and approach is informed by safety experts and real-world experiences.
“We will continue to work with regulators and our partners, to combat gender-based violence and strengthen safety on our platforms and encourage others to adopt similar strategies to effect meaningful change.”
Match Group has rolled out features such as anti-harassment prompts to help prevent harmful language on the app and the ability to ban users across its portfolio of dating apps.
For 24/7 family and domestic violence counselling support, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
For online dating advice, visit: eSafety.gov.au/women/being-social/online-dating
To report serious online abuse, visit: eSafety.gov.au/report