Smartphone and coffee

It’s all fun and romantic until someone gets sexually harassed or abused.

According to KHON 2 News, underage teens in Hawai‘i have been assaulted through the use of online dating apps, leading to several teenagers being harmed.

“Sex assaults, rapes, sodomies, extortion, a lot of it has to do with extortion, revenge porn,” former Honolulu police officer and cybercrimes investigator Chris Duque said. “It’s giving your kid a loaded gun.”

A nationwide problem

13-year-old Nicole Lovell had been using the Kik messenger app to communicate with 18-year-old college student David Eisenhauer from Virginia Tech, according to CBS News.

Lovell would sneak out of her house in Blacksburg, and met with Eisenhauer in Virginia on January 27. Three days later, her body was found in Surrey County, North Carolina. She had been stabbed to death, with Eisenhauer the primary suspect behind her murder.

“She was a lovely girl,” Stacey Snider, Lovell’s neighbor, said. “Very caring. Very loving. And she wouldn’t hurt anybody. And that’s probably what got her in trouble.”

Dating apps are far from safe for unsuspecting minors.

No fact-checking is required

The Honolulu Police Department affirmed that anybody on both dating apps and social media can set up their profile information as one big lie. Personal interests and background information are also factors that can be misleading. Some dating apps, like Tinder, also show the geological location of the individual.

“Adults have been murdered after meeting on Tinder,” said Susan McLean, an Australian cyber safety expert.

“Everyone, not just teenagers, should be careful about meeting people they have only ever engaged online,” said Michael Haddow, a detective inspector for the NSW Child Exploitation internet unit.

According to the Tech Times, Tinder is used by thousands of teenagers as young as 13. There is no guarantee of verifying the real age of app users.

“There’s ‘sextortion,’ in that the child is engaged in the conversation with supposedly another child.” said Dusque.

How to stay safe and secure

There is nothing wrong with using dating apps to find a possible partner. However, increased safety precautions must be put in place.

HPD encourages all parents to learn more about their children’s friends, including their interests, activities and what places they like to occupy.

Another safety mechanism would be for parents to have access to their children’s smartphone content. Hawai‘i Sen. Will Espero expresses his interests in regulating such commission.

“When we’re dealing with minors and where the parents are paying for those services, then the parents do have significant rights,” Espero said.

Espero also made mention of drafting a possible legislation that would enhance funding for law enforcements to deal with internet crime and offenses against minors.

Duque also encourages parents to be wary of their children’s behavioral changes, and question them about it, regardless of how they may feel.

Some parents say, ‘Well, I want to respect my child’s privacy.’ I say – I was going to use a stronger word – but that’s baloney,” said Duque. “The safety of the child overrides their expectation of privacy, that’s number one.”

If threats of physical or sexual harm continues to rise through the use of dating apps, then companies should consider the possibility of shutting them down.