Technology has made our lives so simple. As underpinnings of technology, social networking services keep us connected to family, friends, and essentially the rest of the world. One like of a picture can be the start of a new romance. The problem is not being connected online, it comes in the form of a friend request.
In an article by My Broadband it is noted that in 2015, South Africa had 23 million smartphone users. By 2016 that number has increased. I am yet to come across a university student who does not own a cell phone or a tablet. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have millions of subscribers. As subscribers of these sites, women and children easily fall victim to ‘online predators’. This could be the result of the fact that, on the internet, nothing is ever really private. Once the information is online, it is easily accessible for many people. Getting your personal information is just a click away.
Many people (for this post I will use men as my example) create fake online accounts. This is called cat-fishing. To ‘hook’ females, they use false names, ages and other relevant information. Valery Pillay, a 19 year old female student at the University of Cape Town describes her first encounter of being catfished:
“I created a google account as a joke, I didn’t expect to like really meet guys…So this guy popped up as a friend request and I accepted and he seemed really cool. When we met he was a totally different person and he basically lied about everything, he even had a wife and kids”
Thinking it will not happen to you is very naïve and dangerous. There are literally millions of people online, including paedophiles, rapists, and murderers. When meeting with people you do not know at all, you cannot simply trust them because they say they are not dangerous. As exemplified by Valery’s story, knowing someone online and in person are two different things. Even though there are often articles and news reports of women being raped and killed by someone they met online, this does not stop women or young girls from meeting men.
“We usually met in a public place…I don’t tell people where I’m going”, Valery recalls. You might be put in a situation where it is difficult for you to leave. Mothers will preach to you about the dangers of meeting people online, but do you listen? Many females create profiles on dating or social networking sites in order to meet new people or perhaps a new partner. Unfortunately, you do not know the intention of the person you are chatting to.
There are several dangers involved when meeting men you only know through details of an online profile. Of these is the danger of being date-raped. Although knowing the dangers, Valery does not think it will happen to her, “I don’t think he would hurt me in a public place”, she adds. Females tend to think that meeting men in a public place minimises the chance of that happening, which is not the case. It is quite easy for a man to slip date rape drugs into your coffee, drink or food. You cannot always be on guard and alert, especially if you are trying to enjoy yourself.
South African dating sites such as Flirtbox has an age restriction of 16. There are instances where people younger than 16 make fake profile accounts just to join. The same can be said for older men who claim to fall in the 16-18 category. There are no protection or verification measures set in place, which makes creating fake accounts much easier. To actually show some of the dangers, I created my own fake profile on a dating website called Scout. It did not require my email to be sent to different guys and texting is quite easy.
It did not take very long for men to start texting me.
There are times when you will find someone who is genuinely interesting and does not come across as crazy or a creep. There are many precautions you can take when meeting someone for the first time. Firstly, it is advisable to take someone with you. The person does not have to sit with you, as long as they are close by. If you are a bit shy, you can always let someone know exactly where you are going, who you are meeting and the amount of time you will be away. Always carry weapon you can easily get to. Pepper-spray and tasers are usually the ones to go for, but keys work as well. Carry a whistle with you. I know it might seem silly, but when you are in that moment of panic, its loud sound could save your life.
Not everyone gets that lucky though. There are several steps you can take if something bad has happened. The first step would be to alert the police. It does not necessarily have to be something sexual or physical. If he threatened you in any way, you can alert the police as well. If the guy has a car then make sure you write down his details before the time, just in case you might need it. There are several organisations such as rape crisis that you can call if something traumatic has happened to you.
Your life is way more important. If you have a bad feeling about meeting someone, then do not go. If you are already with them then you should leave. In the endless pool of social networks and dating sites, there will always be other people that you can meet.