BYU nursing professors unearth disturbing trends in sexual assault cases connected to dating apps

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In the first large-scale study of the relationship between dating apps and sexual assault, researchers find violent sexual predators use dating apps to target vulnerable victims.

Dating apps are now an entrenched part of American social life, but there’s work to do to ensure users’ safety. New BYU research suggests that violent sexual predators are using dating apps as hunting grounds for vulnerable victims.

In the largest study of its kind, a BYU nursing team analyzed Utah sexual assault victims’ medical exam charts from 2017 to 2020. They found that 14% of the 1,968 rapes committed by acquaintances occurred during an initial meetup arranged through a dating app. Those cases stood out in disturbing ways: victims with mental illnesses and other vulnerabilities were targeted, and the attacks were significantly more violent.

“What we found is incredibly concerning,” said BYU nursing professor Julie Valentine. “We’d started to see an increase of victims reporting being raped after meeting someone on a dating app, and we wanted to know if rapes facilitated through dating apps differed from other acquaintance rapes. They are indeed very different.”

Prior research shows that individuals with a mental illness are already more likely to be sexually assaulted. In the study, 47% of the victims of acquaintance rape that was unrelated to dating apps disclosed a mental illness. Among those assaulted during a first meeting set up through an app, the number was much higher still, with 60% disclosing a mental illness.

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