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Online dating sexual assault reports for women under 20 have doubled since 2016

The rate of teenage women reporting online dating-related sexual assaults has nearly doubled since 2016, new figures show.

The figures come from the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) Serious Crime Analysis Section (SCAS) which supports police investigations into serious sexual assaults commited by strangers.

The SCAS reviewed data from 671 sexual assault cases reported to the NCA which occured between 1 April, 2003 and 21 March, 2001. All of these cases involved a face-to-face meeting following initial contact from online dating either via a website or an app.

It follows a previous NCA report from 2016 which looked at data from 163 cases from 2003 to 2015.

Of the 671 cases it analysed for the 2022 report, 83 per cent were women and 17 per cent were men, a two per cent rise in male victims since the 2016 report.

While the new report found that the level of this type of offence remained “fairly stable” across the board, cases for female victims aged 19 and under nearly doubles, rising from 12 per cent to 22 per cent. The proportion of male victims in this age bracket rose from 25 per cent to 31 per cent.

The SCAS added that the largest group of people reporting sexual assault after online dating was men and women between the ages of 20 to 29, which accounted for 40 per cent of the cases.

The SCAS has clarified that this report doesn’t include unreported incidences of sexual assault or offences which police forces have not sent to NCA to be examined.

Louise Vesely-Shore, principal analyst in the NCA’s SCAS team said that it’s “notable” that this form of crime has continued during the pandemic when there have been restrictions in place.

“A sexual assault victim is never at fault and we do not want the circumstances in which these attacks take place to cause anyone to doubt that. We want victims to feel confident reporting it to the police,” Vesely-Shore added.

The NCA is currently working with academics from the University of Birmingham to further explore the impact of the pandemic on stranger sexual offending generally.

The findings were published alongside separate research for a BBC documentary called Dating’s Dangerous Secrets, which found that 37 per cent of dating app users have reported inappropriate behaviour and 63 per cent have felt uncomfortable on a date following a match on a dating app.

The BBC’s research also found that 33 per cent of respondents had experience harassment or abuse on these dates.

Vesely-Shore added: “Anyone dating online should be aware of the potential dangers, so they can be better prepared and make the choices that are right for them.

“We want people to protect themselves when meeting someone in person for the first time, as well as deter would-be offenders from committing these types of crimes.”

Safety advice released by the NCA for those dating people they met online includes meeting in public, making excuses to leave if the date isn’t going well and getting help if you face any form of harassment or abuse.

If this article has raised any issues, you can call the domestic and sexual abuse helpline on 0808 802 1414.

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