WARNING: This article discusses sexual abuse
A Wellington woman who complained to police she was raped on a first date says some men are using a Christian dating app to target vulnerable women.
When Belinda* first discovered Christian Connection, a popular faith-based dating app, she was optimistic about finding love again.
Having been on her own for the last seven years, the opportunity to meet others who shared her beliefs and understood her religious perspective was “amazing”.
“I just want to be happily married, you know, like that’s all I want. No, I don’t want overseas travel, nothing. That’s all I want.”
But the excitement surrounding her search for love has now been replaced by trauma and fear.
On her first date with the man, they had arranged to meet at a bar, however, before the date, he asked her to meet at his hotel instead as she said he claimed to not know the area well.
Given they had met on a Christian site and he had a strong online presence on other platforms, Belinda said she felt more trusting of him, so agreed to go to his hotel lobby and then after realising he wasn’t ready yet, to his hotel room.
It was there where, after a few hours of talking and watching TV together alone in the room, she alleged he raped her.
Belinda told the Herald she had a false sense of security because they had met on the app and he had portrayed himself as following the Christian faith.
“His dating profile was so spiritual. He said he read seven chapters of the Bible a day.
When Belinda* first discovered Christian Connection she was optimistic about finding love again. Photo / 123rf
“It was so well done.”
A few days after the attack Belinda said she reported it to the police, however she was told there was not enough evidence to charge him.
She has also reported the incident to the platform, but believes he is still active on the site.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Belinda said the memories of the historic abuse “just came right back” after she was sexually assaulted earlier this year and she felt frozen during the attack.
“At work I’m coping fine, because I work really well, and then at night I chew it over.”
The dating app is a “predator’s paradise”, in her opinion.
“I’ve never really been to a night club, I don’t get drunk, I don’t just go out to all the pubs on a Friday night. We [Christian women] don’t roll like that, you do things with people, or you watch harmless movies with friends.
“There’s a lot of things that you purposely don’t know.”
Given this, she believes some of the men on the app are targeting women there because some may be more naive than secular women.
A spokesman for Christian Connection told the Herald on Sunday they took the case very seriously and have been in constant contact with both parties, who have raised individual complaints.
“However, as we understand it, the police case has now been dropped. We will continue to work with the individuals and the police should any further action be taken,” the spokesman said.
“The safety and wellbeing of our customers are absolutely and fundamentally core to our values as a business. Our dedicated customer service and moderation team carefully checks every profile. We also use industry-leading anti-fraud technology, machine learning and identity checks.”
The spokesman told the Herald on Sunday this ensures that the “vast majority” of people who join Christian Connection are “fantastic Christian people who you would love to meet”.
“Every Christian Connection member must complete a faith section of their profile. This includes a short introduction about the influence that their personal faith has on their life and the importance of this. We ask about their church involvement and why they chose the church they attend; any inspirations, including people, places or Bible passages.”
The organisation strongly refuted the claim that the site was a predator’s paradise, or that people are not vetted.
“Christian Connection is a member of the Online Dating Association, the trade association for online dating, which works to create and promote standards that help dating services deliver user trust and confidence,” the spokesman said.
Making matters worse, the victim said, was perceptions in the Christian community regarding sexual assault.
“If something happens, then it was your fault. The women are in control, that’s how we were brought up. So you were either dressed inappropriately or you went up to the hotel, or you encouraged him.”
Netsafe chief online safety officer Sean Lyon told the Herald on Sunday that to some extent, ethically speaking, apps should be vetting users, but the caveat is just how practical this is.
“We’re talking about information that is private in many cases, we’re talking about making moral and ethical judgements on some individuals, so it’s a really hard process to try do that pre-vetting - and people lie. It’s the unfortunate truth.”
Lyon said platforms should remove users who breach their terms and conditions, and there should be robust rules to protect their users.
He confirmed they do get complaints about dating apps in general, but these were in line with the number of complaints they get from other online platforms where people connect.
“Those that have an intent to cause harm will target any place where people are looking to meet other people with a romantic link to it.”
Belinda is still working through the attack and its ramifications and wants others to know not to trust people they meet on the site.
“Even if they’ve got amazing profiles on Christian websites.
“Just get these men off there.”
* Belinda’s name has been changed to protect her identity
Sexual harm - do you need help?
If it’s an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you’ve ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone contact the Safe to Talk confidential crisis helpline on:
- Text 4334 and they will respond
- Email [email protected]
- Visit https://safetotalk.nz/contact-us/ for an online chat
Or contact your local police station.
If you have been abused, remember it’s not your fault.
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