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Last September, Sue M., a 53-year-old who works in corporate communications, got matched with a man on the online dating platform PlentyofFish. The middle-aged restaurant manager asked her to dinner in Providence, Rhode Island. But their date would end before Sue got a chance to finish the Diet Coke she had ordered.
Sue, who asked that her last name remain confidential, remembers her PlentyofFish date suggesting they leave. He drove her to a nearby parking lot, pulled her breasts out of her shirt and forced her to masturbate him. She says she yanked her hand away and convinced the man to let her go.
Sue didn’t think to report the incident to PlentyofFish until the man texted her while she was with her niece. “I knew u were with your relative,” he wrote her, “but at least I could have called and say hi and I see u online.” The man did call, repeatedly. Sue blocked his number but feared what he’d do to other women. She tried to report him through the only method she knew — in-app messaging. But because he’d blocked her profile, she couldn’t. She recalls growing so frustrated by the limited information on the app’s reporting options she gave up.
“I would have to investigate. I would have to contact someone at PlentyofFish,” Sue said. “I am not real confident that they would have a team that would be real responsive.”
Only after completing our confidential survey did Sue feel inspired to try again, she said. She found PlentyofFish’s customer service email address for filing complaints and drafted a message for the company. She plans to send it after the criminal investigation into her case gets underway.
We’ve spent a lot of time reporting on how online dating companies handle these cases. Our December 2019 investigation revealed that Match Group — the industry’s behemoth with $1.7 billion in annual revenues and owner of 45 popular dating platforms — screens for registered sex offenders on its flagship paid Match app but not on its free apps, which include OkCupid, PlentyofFish and Tinder.
Sue is among the nearly 200 women and men who completed a survey published with our investigation. Many, like Sue, expressed frustrations over trying to report a sexual assault to an online dating platform. Some told us they couldn’t figure out how to report their rape claims. Others thought too much time had passed after the incident occurred to file a report. Still others relayed that they didn’t know dating apps would accept user complaints involving offline sexual assault.
During our reporting, we learned about all the ways people can log an incident with the apps. We’ve experienced the same frustrations as our survey takers in trying to navigate the often complicated reporting methods.
Here’s what you need to know about how to report sexual assault and other abuse to dating apps and websites.
I want to report a sexual assault or rape. What are the options?
Seek Emotional Support. For victims of sexual assault, figuring out what to do next may feel overwhelming. It’s important to remember that safety is a priority. Call a friend or a loved one for emotional support. If you or someone else is in danger or injured, call 911. Also know that what happened is not your fault. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, operates a confidential hotline. Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) and get connected to a local rape crisis center. The hotline will direct callers to medical services and answer questions about how to report. To contact a local provider, RAINN offers this directory here. Some clinics will send a trained advocate to accompany a sex assault victim to the hospital or police station.
The LGBT National Help Center also offers confidential hotlines tailored to gay, lesbian, queer and transgender people. Loveisrespect offers resources geared toward young people who have faced sexual violence.
Get Medical Attention. Experts recommend not showering or bathing before arriving at a medical facility, if possible. RAINN has this informational guide on receiving medical care, which recommends bringing a change of clothes. You can also get a sexual assault forensic exam, known as a “rape kit.” According to RAINN, an exam specialist will go through a checklist to obtain DNA evidence that could help identify the perpetrator. This exam is optional, RAINN states, “but doing so may give you a stronger case against the perpetrator if you decide to report the crime now or down the road.”
Work With Law Enforcement. People who want to report a sexual assault to the police should alert a doctor while being treated. Medical professionals may contact the authorities. People who don’t want to report at the time of the exam, or who choose not to seek medical care, can call their local police, or drop by in person, at a later date. College students can report to their campus police. Students have additional rights granted under the federal anti-sex discrimination law Title IX.
In most places, officers trained in handling rape reports will conduct an interview. Some departments offer advocates who help people navigate the criminal justice process or work with rape crisis centers and other nonprofits to provide similar services. RAINN has created multiple resources on how to report sexual assault to law enforcement. They can be found here.
How do I report a sexual assault, rape or abuse to a dating app?
Reporting an online dating sexual assault doesn’t have to end with the criminal justice system. Companies behind America’s most popular dating apps can take steps that police can’t. They can remove a user from their platforms, for instance, or ban the person from other apps they own. We haven’t found any online dating platforms that specify a time limit for users to report offline incidents.
We have written more about reporting abuse and rape to dating apps here.
What information will I need to report my experience to the dating apps?
We’ve heard from more than 50 women and men who’ve tried to report rape, sexual assault or abuse to a dating platform — in large cities like San Francisco and New York and small communities in Georgia, Ohio and Nevada. These responses show that, overwhelmingly, people report sex assault using the in-app messaging methods.
Some dating app users, like Sue, have told Columbia Journalism Investigations that in-app methods don’t work if the person they are reporting blocks them first or if they’ve blocked the person prior to filing a report. We’ve found every app has options for reporting a user beyond tagging a profile or sending direct messages. The most common is an email address or form found on the website. Users who attempt to report abuse by email are often asked for specific information about the person they are reporting, including:
- Facebook page (username and web address for the person’s page)
- Phone number
- Email address
- User name (the name the accused went by on the platform)
- Age and/or birthdate
How to report abuse, rape or sexual assault on different dating apps:
Each platform has different ways to report an accused user. Some allow users to report a rape even if they don’t have an active account on the platform. Others say they will take user reports through messages on Twitter. Only one online dating service offers a dedicated customer service call line: Match. Click the platform name for a step-by-step guide on all options for reporting below.
- Submit a complaint to Tinder online by visiting: https://www.help.tinder.com/hc/en-us/requests (This method works even without an active Tinder account.)
- There are two ways to report a sex assault incident through the app:
- Haven’t blocked or been blocked by the accused user? Go to the user’s profile page through messages or the matches interface. Swipe left on the message or match in question to access the “Report” tab.
- Have blocked or been blocked by the accused? Click on profile and select “Settings.” This will pull up multiple options, including “Contact Us.” Click “Help and Support” under that tab, which goes to a page asking what kind of help. Click “Safety, Security, and Privacy” to fill out a complaint form.
- Submit a report about another user by clicking his or her profile. At the bottom, a “Report User” link will go to a questionnaire asking the reason for flagging the profile.
- Have a message history with that user? Click on the messages in app or online. Then click the three dots at the top right of the page (in-app only) and select “Report Profile.” This will go through a series of questions about the reason for reporting that user.
- For those using a computer, look for the bright red text in the message history that says “Report this message for inappropriate content.” Then report a specific message received and file a complaint about the user. To do so, select a box with the word “Report,” followed by the user’s name.
- Email a complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. (This method works even without an active PlentyofFish account.)
- OkCupid allows reports about a user no longer found on the app. Click the “Settings” link on the profile page, select “Help” and then, on a separate page, scroll down to “Reporting a profile, photo, or message.” This will give multiple reporting options, including reporting a user no longer on the app, or matched.
- This same process can also be done by visiting https://help.okcupid.com/article/144-how-to-report-a-profile-photo-or-message#
- In the app, a user can click the three dots on another user’s profile page to report him or her, which presents several choices. Select the relevant option, and a text box appears to share detailed information with the platform about the complaint.
- To report another user who is still matched and may have messaged, click the three dots on the messages page for that user. Select the relevant option, and a text box appears to share detailed information with the platform.
- Match has a customer service phone number, 800-926-2824.
- Report a user through his or her profile by clicking on the three dots at the top right of the profile page.
- Any Match members can search and locate a profile, unless a user blocked another user. Look for a page with selection boxes. If the “block user” box is selected, select additional boxes for complaint categories such as “Inappropriate Behavior” and “Other.” Select a category and provide additional details about the reason for reporting a user.
- Report another user through the messages interface by clicking on the three dots at the top right of the messages page with the other user. There, block the user and select options such as “Inappropriate Behavior” and “Other.” Select a category and provide additional details about the reason for reporting the user.
- Email a report through the website’s “Ask a Question” function, at http://match.custhelp.com/app/ask/src_domain/us.match.com
Spark Networks (Platforms include: JDate, ChristianMingle, LDSSingles, JSwipe, Zoosk)
- There are two ways to submit a complaint through the app, either through the inbox messages with the accused user or his or her profile. Both methods are similar.
- Click on the three dots in the upper right corner of the profile or messages of the person. Select report, pick a category for the incident and then click send.
- In a browser, follow the same process, except the three dots to report will be on the bottom right of the profile.
- Already blocked the member or the message history is deleted? Reach out to customer support. Every app and website has a “Help” category under “Settings” to reach out directly to the company.
- Submit a request to Grindr online by visiting: https://help.grindr.com/hc/en-us/requests/new
- There are two ways to report a sex assault incident through the Grindr app:
- Haven’t blocked or been blocked by the accused user? Go to the user’s profile page through “Messages” or the “Taps” interface under the “Messages” button on the bottom menu. Tap the user’s profile and then the three dots in the top right corner. Click “Report.” There’s no specific way to report a sexual assault or rape. Report for “Harassment or Bullying” instead and explain what happened in the next screen.
- Have blocked or been blocked by the accused user? Click on profile and select “Settings.” This will pull up multiple options, including “Support.” Click “Support” and find the button on the top right corner that looks like a pencil writing on paper. Click it and “Start a Conversation.” Write a narrative and include screenshots to send directly to Grindr support.
- Submit a request to Scruff online by visiting: https://support.scruff.com/hc/en-us/requests/new
- There are three ways to report an incident through the Scruff app:
- Haven’t blocked or been blocked by the accused user? Go to the user’s profile page and tap the three dots or the circle with a line through it in the upper right corner. Tap “Report.”
- Have blocked the accused user? Click on settings and select “Manage Hides/Blocks.” See that user’s updated name. Click the user to report. This will unblock him or her. Search for that user by name and block him or her using the above instruction.
- Have been blocked by the accused user or don’t wish to unblock the user to report him or her? Click on “Settings.” This will pull up multiple options, including “Contact Scruff Support.” Under the tab, click “New Support Request.” Go to a page asking for the kind of help and a contact email. There’s no way to submit a sex assault report per se, but “Profile Guidelines Violation” allows users to log an abuse complaint.
- Submit a report or complaint to Adam4Adam online by visiting: https://adam4adam.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/requests/new
- To report the accused user, first block him or her.
- To block on the Adam4Adam website, go to the user’s profile. On the left, click the “Block This User” button. Click continue. Once the user is blocked, Adam4Adam sends an email confirmation. The email has a “Report User” link.
- To block on the Adam4Adam app, go to the user’s profile and, under the star icon on the right, click “More.” Click “Block This User” and confirm. Adam4Adam will send a confirmation email. In it, there’s a “Report User” link.
- Report a concern through Facebook by direct messaging the Adam4Adam Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Adam4Adam/
- To report an accused user through his or her profile, go to the profile page and then:
- Scroll to the page bottom and click the “Block and Report” button.
- Choose one of the reasons for reporting and include any additional comments.
- Click “Submit Report.”
- To report an accused user through the conversations on the app, go to the conversation with that user and then:
- Click the three dots in the top right corner of the page.
- Click “Block and Report.”
- Specify the reason for making the report and give any additional comments.
- Click “Submit Report.”
- Email a report to Bumble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Spoon and Elizabeth Picciani contributed reporting.