In the last month, Snyder said she has been on dates with 10 different men. She said she has learned through trial and error how to protect herself from dating someone whose expectations aren’t aligned with hers.
“You do have to realize that you are putting yourself in a vulnerable situation,” she said, adding that she opts to meet someone in a public place for the first time and always keeps the first date short. “I haven’t met in person with anyone I’ve felt threatened by.”
While she has had a positive experience so far, Snyder acknowledged online dating isn’t fail-safe.
“It’s kind of like the Wild West,” she said. “You don’t really know what you’re going to get.”
Holly Mullen, executive director of Utah’s Rape Recovery Center, said disturbing things happen to online daters more often than anyone wants to admit.
“Women who go online to meet someone certainly feel like they are being as cautious as they can be,” she said. “In most cases, they thought they could trust someone and it ends up badly.” Mullen said there is no way to guarantee safety in those situations.
“If someone wants to rape a woman, they’re going to find a way to do it,” she said.
Of the women Snell has counseled over the years, she said many of those who ended up in dangerous situations with men committed the same “huge, fatal flaw” by voluntarily giving out their addresses or going to the man’s home.
“You do not go to their place, you don’t give out information on how to get to yours, you tell someone where you’re going and who you’re meeting with and you meet at a public place,” she said, adding there are also ways to recognize daters with potentially ill intentions.
"If I were a predator, I would send out multiple messages fishing for someone whose response would show they have poor boundaries," Snell said. In general, she said predators “make excessive demands, ask for swimsuit pictures early on, lead women into sexual conversations and often use sympathy to get information more quickly.”
Nielsen and Snyder said in addition to the way a person presents himself online, they also pay attention to how men look in their online dating profile photograph. While it can’t portray everything, Nielsen said sometimes “you have to go with your gut.”
“I think it really just comes down to being careful and having a good attitude and wanting to engage with someone genuinely,” Snyder said.
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