Romance and Dating, Sexual Harassment, Technology

Victim of Sexual Assault Tries To Drag Match.com Down A Slippery Slope

Would new Match.com regulations stop Ben Roethlisberger from connecting with a receiver?

By now, many of you have see the story about the woman who is suing Match.com. It’s been in the L.A. Times, the WSJ Law Blog (replete with a very creepy picture), and the ABA Journal. It’s a sad story. A woman alleges she was sexually assaulted while on a date with a man she met through Match.com.

If the allegations are true, you can only hope her attacker is punished to the full extent of the law.

This story is making national news because, in addition to pursuing charges against her alleged attacker, the woman has also filed a lawsuit against Match.com. She wants them to conduct a screening of the users on their site.

In the heat of a disturbing story about an assault, I’m sure that checking a member’s name against a registry of sex offenders seems like a minimal requirement that can be easily done by a large company like Match.com. At least that’s what her lawyer would like us to think.

But I think any dispassionate and reasonable analysis of the situation would reveal that such a requirement is at worst dangerous, and a best entirely ineffective. I don’t care how many proprietary algorithms these dating sites throw at you — at the end of the day, there is no substitute for human intuition, common sense, and luck….

Let’s start with the “luck” part of this equation, since that’s the part that is too often overlooked. I mean, we live in a world where a deranged serial killer has been dumping dead women on suburban beaches, and we didn’t even know about it until five seconds ago. We’re living in a freaking Bones episode (cough… David Boreanaz… cough). There are some sick bastards out there who prey on women. So let’s just all remember that there is no minimal screening — there isn’t even a maximum-strength screening — that Match.com could undertake that would prevent a woman from being sexually assaulted while out on a date.

As unsatisfying as it sounds, the woman in the instant case had an unlucky Match.com experience. From the L.A. Times:

In an interview with KABC-TV Channel 7, the woman said her relationship with the man started innocently enough: “He sent me an email and said he was into golf and tennis and he had a house in the Palisades over Malibu and he liked art and culture, travel and food.”

[Her attorney Mark Webb] described his client as an Ivy League graduate who works in film and television. He said she met her alleged assailant last year at Urth Cafe in West Hollywood. He seemed charming and she agreed to see him again, he said.

But after the second date, the woman said, the alleged assault occurred: “He went straight into the bathroom when he came in my place and I sat down on the couch and waited for him,” she told the TV station. “Then he came out of the bathroom and jumped me and forced me to have oral sex and then he left.”

“This horrific ordeal completely blindsided me because I had considered myself savvy about online dating safety,” the woman said in a statement released through her attorney last week. “Things quickly turned into a nightmare, beyond my control.”

She probably was a savvy online dater. But when she invited a strange man into her home, she was taking a risk, and she probably knew that. This happened on a second date, so this guy evaded her human sensor for at least one full date. Do we really think he was was going to be flummoxed by whatever barriers to entry that Match.com could put up?

Here’s the heart of where this lawsuit is coming from:

After the man left, the woman went online and learned that he had been convicted of several counts of sexual battery.

After he allegedly assaulted her, she checked him out. I imagine she’s now thinking that this check should have been done before. And now she’s wishing that Match.com had done that check before too.

But doing it “before” wouldn’t have really helped, because he would have lied. He evidently lied or somehow hid his true nature to her on one date well enough to get a second date; he would have done the same thing to the Match.com sensors. If you read the Match.com safety tips, you’ll see that the site emphasizes using anonymity as a tool to protect yourself. If Match checked for sex offender status, this guy would have known that and done whatever minimal masking necessary for him to get around Match’s screening.

It’s an unfortunate, unlucky situation, but there’s nothing Match could have done about it. At best, forcing them to try is ineffective.

But it really might also be proactively dangerous. God forbid any woman out there gets the mistaken impression that Match.com is vouching or somehow can “vouch” for the decency of its users. Seriously, the only way to make this situation worse would be to give some person out there the false sense of hope or security that “Oh, Match made sure that nobody here is a sex offender, so I’m totally safe.” Somewhere there is a person that is stupid enough to think that, and Match should be doing everything it can to disabuse that person of their complacency, not playing into it with ultimately unhelpful screening techniques.

Match.com shouldn’t be saying “all users are guaranteed not to be sex offenders that we know of, to the extent they told us their real name, we think, but then again everybody has to start somewhere.” Match should be encouraged to publish in big red letters somewhere “WARNING: THE MUTHERF***ERS UP IN HERE MIGHT BE PERVERTED BASTARDS. Come to every date prepared with common sense, a can of mace, and a friend on speed dial.”

If you want to use this unfortunate situation to address the safety of online dating, regulate towards common sense, not towards ineffective countermeasures.

It’s Friday night and some woman is about to go out on a date with a man she’s never met and that guy is going to be a rank bastard. Staying safe will involve staying alert, and staying lucky.

Woman suing Match.com over alleged sexual assault speaks out about incident [Los Angeles Times]
A Date Goes Horribly Wrong: Should Dating Site Pay Up? [WSJ Law Blog]
Woman Sues Match.com, Wants Screening for Sexual Predators [ABA Journal]

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