Cruising online for hookups and relationships can be fun. But experience tells us that we need to take our own safety seriously when we engage with others online.
Social and dating apps have been used by criminals to target people for robbery and violence. Many people also report experiencing abusive or racist language, breach of privacy, and other antisocial behaviour online.
To get more of what we want and less of what we don’t want online means being aware, setting boundaries and taking some sensible precautions.
Here are a few tactics to keep you safe. If you have experienced an incident, click here for more information.
Protect your emotional wellbeing
Sometimes, people can use the anonymity of the internet to say and do some offensive things. It’s important to remember that cyberbullying, online harassment and abuse is not okay, and is not something that you have to put up with. All apps will have block and report functions. These are important tools for you to be in control of your own safety, don’t hesitate to use them if you’re feeling unsafe. If online abuse happens to you, block and report the perpetrator and take some time for self-care to move through it. This might involve putting your device away and turning off notifications for a while, talking to someone to debrief, relaxing with a shower or taking your mind away through music, a movie or a book.
Get to know someone as well as you can
Dating apps and websites provide a tool to chat with future sex partners prior to meeting them. Chatting can help you get to know them as well as you can. It can let you know if they are who they say they are, and whether they’re sober. You can do this through:
- Asking for a picture of their face (a face pic)
- Asking to video call or a phone call
- Sharing other social media accounts, like Instagram or Facebook
When something seems suspicious
Look out for red flags when chatting to someone. First and most importantly, trust your gut. If you’re not feeling comfortable about how someone is talking to you, trust that feeling and act accordingly. If someone is not respecting your boundaries, that’s a red flag. You can always block someone if something doesn't feel right. Some other ways to identify red flags include:
- Google image reverse search people’s pictures
- Look out for things that don’t add up
- Keep an eye out for signs – i.e., ‘my camera doesn’t work’ or not wanting to share pictures
Protect your identity and personal information
Your privacy is important when online. It’s also worth noting here that some people like to stay more private than others. So, it’s up to you in terms of how much information you want to share about things that aren’t just your sex life. Here are some privacy tactics to keep yourself safe:
- Don’t use your full name in your handle
- Choose a photo of you as your profile picture that is different to the ones on your other social media accounts
- Be wary about anyone who wants to know a lot of personal information about you
- Don’t share nudes with your face and beware of other identifiable features on your body (like tattoos)
Chatting about sex
It’s sexy and useful to talk about what you’re into and what you’re not into before you meet. With practice, you should feel more comfortable talking about your limits and your turn-ons. If someone is not respecting your boundaries, that’s a red flag. If you start to talk about sex online, this is a great opportunity to let your partner know what safer sex methods you use and talk to each other about your STI/HIV status. You can ask questions like:
- When was your last STI check?
- (If HIV-) Are you on PrEP?
- (If HIV+) Are you U=U?
- Which brand of condoms do you like to use?
- Which lube do you like?
Meeting someone for the first time face-to-face is meant to be exciting. There can also be a level of risk when you take things offline. Some tips to make a first meet-up safer include:
- Meet in a public place like a bar, cafe, shopping centre, etc. If you intend on hooking up on the first meeting, meet at a sauna or sex on premises venue. Meeting outside of your home and in a public space with other people around can give you time to get to know the person and figure out if they are who they say they are before inviting them back to your place. This is especially important if you live alone. If you have invited someone to your house, a good safety strategy might be to pack away your valuables.
- Tell someone. Screenshot the profile of the person you’re meeting and send it to a friend. Consider telling someone where you’re going and how long you might be. Make sure to schedule a time for them to call you (or vice versa) during the meetup to check-in and make a plan for them to action in case they don’t hear from you. If you have a smartphone, you can use the 'Find My Friend' App (for iOS users) or Google Maps (for Android users) to share your location with a friend or someone you trust. Letting other people know adds an additional layer of safety when meeting someone new.
- Make the space to change your mind. When you’re planning to meet, agree that it’s okay that you or your partner(s) change your/their mind if it doesn’t feel right in the moment. If someone does not respect you changing your mind, that’s a red flag.
- Bring supplies. Bring your own condoms and lube to be 100% sure about using protection. Owning your sexual health is good practice in case someone forgets their gear.
- Getting kinky? Avoid BDSM or other risky activities when your first meet with someone new. These activities rely strongly on trust and any practised kinkster would know this and should value your limits and safety. If someone is not respecting your boundaries, that’s a red flag. If you’re new to BDSM, take gradual steps and get to know people some more before you start playing.
- Trust your gut. Your safety is important, leave if you don’t feel comfortable. Everyone has the right to say no for any reason and at any time. If there is an incident, reporting it may prevent it from happening to anyone else. You can report the incident to the app or website you met them on, to the police, or you can speak to someone here at Meridian. For more information about reporting an incident, please read the following information under ‘Reporting an Incident’.
It is important to know what support services are out there for you if you ever experience prejudice related violence and harassment online, on a dating app or from a hook-up.
Reporting an Incident
If it is an emergency, always call Triple Zero (000).
If it is not urgent, call the Police Assistance Line on 131 444.
If you would like to make an anonymous call without giving your name and identification, call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Domestic Violence Liaison officers (DVLOs) have special training in working with people who are experiencing domestic and family violence. Most police stations have a DVLO. For more information, please visit https://www.police.act.gov.au/safety-and-security/family-violence
Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers (GLLOs) are specially trained to address LGBTI issues. For more information on GLLOs, please visit https://www.police.act.gov.au/about-us/programs-and-partners/gay-and-lesbian-liaison-officers
If you’re not happy with the service you have received from the police, the ACT Police Force has an internal complaints process. For more information, please visit https://www.police.act.gov.au/report-and-register/complaints-and-compliments
Meridian can help you report an incident to the Police. If you would like to get in touch, please contact us at 02 6257 2855 or [email protected].
Victim Support ACT
Victim Support ACT provides free and confidential services for victims who have experienced crime in the ACT. You can use their services if you are:
- A person who has suffered harm as a result of a crime
- A family member of a person who has died as a result of a crime
- A person who has witnessed a crime
It is not necessary to have reported the crime to the Police to access this service and you can and you can access the service at any time after the incident.
You can contact Victim Support ACT at 02 6205 2066 or by visiting the link, https://www.victimsupport.act.gov.au/functions/contact-us
Meridian can also provide support in the referral process with Victim Support ACT. Please contact us on 02 6257 2855 or [email protected].
Reporting to an Online Dating and Social Media App
Most popular online dating/hook-up apps and social media platforms have in-built tools for reporting harassment, abuse and suspicious behaviour.
For more information about specific platforms please visit the links below.
Legal Aid ACT is an independent statutory authority providing legal assistance through legal information and advice, duty lawyer services, and grants of financial assistance in the ACT.
You can call the Legal Aid Information helpline on 1300 654 314.
For more information, please visit www.legalaid.org.au.
Meridian offers a wide range of community-focused wellbeing services. We use our lived experience to lead the way in providing safe, inclusive and affirming support for all experiences and identities. Our wellbeing team are qualified and registered mental health professionals, including counsellors and psychologists. Our services focus on peer-informed, person-centred, trauma-informed and affirming approaches to care and support.
For more information, please visit https://www.meridianact.org.au/wellbeing
Meridian Wellbeing Services is not a crisis service.
We are an appointment-based service, and we only respond to phone calls and emails during normal business hours - 9:00am to 4:00pm, Monday - Friday.
If you, or someone you know is in crisis please call the numbers below:
In an emergency always contact 000.
Access Mental Health open 24/7 | (02) 6205 1065 or 1800 629 354
QLife: Open 3pm - Midnight | 1800 184 527 | qlife.org.au
Lifeline: Open 24/7 | 13 11 14 | lifeline.org.au
Domestic Violence Crisis Service: Open 24/7 | (02) 6280 0900 | dvcs.org.au
Additional Safety Resources
Here are some more resources about online safety and healthy relationships: