Research shows that some abusers are using dating apps as an increasingly popular way to get to know victims.

HOUSTON – These days, many people looking for love turn to dating apps, but sometimes the result may not be as expected.

No, we’re not talking about just finding out you’re incompatible. Sometimes what seems like a romantic fairy tale ends in an insulting nightmare.

“I kept telling him I was like no. I have made it clear that I am not going to do anything to you tonight,” said the woman, who we do not identify.

She says that she and her friend were sexually assaulted during a double date.

She says her friend met her through Instagram. She says that during their first outing, her friend’s date invited her friend so she could come too.

“Both my friend and I drank a couple of drinks they bought us,” the woman said.

She believes the drinks were watered down and says that by the end of the night they were both taken back to her friend’s house and sexually assaulted.

“He decided to come over and lie down right next to me, and then I felt very uncomfortable, and he kept coming closer to me and, like, still touching me and like pulling my pants down,” she said.

Emerging statistics across the country point to a worrying trend. A team of nurses at Brigham Young University in Utah analyzed medical records for victims of sexual assault from 2017-2020. The study found that out of 1968 rapes were committed by acquaintances; 14 percent happened during the first meeting arranged through a dating app.

The study shows that victims with mental illness and other vulnerabilities were the most targeted, and attacks were significantly more violent.

“You don’t know why people, for example, contact you on social media apps or dating apps. You don’t know what intentions are behind this,” the victim said.

Dr. Hara Breeden is the founder and CEO of the Texas Forensic Medical Examiner’s Center in Houston.

“(We offer) counseling as a service, legal advocacy to help them with their litigation if that’s what they want to do, and in a really groundbreaking way, we launched the first adult forensic program,” said Dr. Breeden.

In January alone, according to Dr. Breeden, the center registered 160 victims of sexual assault, and just over one in ten met through an app or dating site, proving that this is becoming an increasingly common form of meeting people.

“I think real relationships are built through this online communication, and I think it’s real. I think people do develop real connections with people. I think people should be aware that there are risks,” said Dr. Breeden.

Heather Bellino is the CEO of the Texas Advocacy Project, which provides free civil, legal and social remedies to victims of sexual assault.

“There is talk about the new dating landscape and how to keep yourself safe. And, unfortunately, it’s about how to keep yourself safe when crime shouldn’t happen at all,” Bellino said. “Whether through a dating app or not, there are people who want to cause harm, and there is very little we can do as individuals to protect ourselves,” she said. Bellino adds that there are several specific ways to avoid becoming a victim.

“Make sure someone else knows where you are going. You meet in a public place. You spend weeks before going somewhere alone with your beau or love interest,” Bellino said.

Both Bellino and Dr. Breeden say dating seekers need to understand behavior that is an indicator of future violence.

“It’s all about power and control, so yes, it can be coercive, it can be belittling, it can be emotional and then it becomes physical,” she explained.

Advocates say abusers may suppress behaviors they think others might see as red flags. They want victims to know that they are never at fault and there is help.

“Blame yourself for this or try to put the blame on yourself… it’s definitely not your fault,” said the victim who spoke to us.

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