Tinder may be the facilitator, but predatory men are the threat

By Jane Gilmore

Imagine a dating app that asked you to review your dates. After every encounter you’d get a request for feedback, just as you do with so many other apps. You could rate your date out of five and add a comment. There would also be a rating for how safe you felt, how much fun you had, and how much time your date spent listening to you.

How many men would get 5-stars? Not all men, but some, perhaps.

Last weeks’ ABC expose on Tinder’s facilitation of sexual predators was outstanding journalism. It provided vital information about the way rapists use Tinder as a tool to find victims. It demonstrated that Tinder’s focus is profit, not protecting its customers. Even its belated response to the report (we’ll have a person email you after you’ve been raped, not a bot, yay us!) was an exercise in public relations, not public safety.

I’ve had a better response to complaints about unwanted anchovies on my pizza than Tinder gave to the women who were raped by men they met on the app.

Underlying the reporting and much of the commentary, however, was a heartbreaking and abhorrent acquiescence to the notion that rape is pervasive and normal.

This is what we call rape culture.

Tinder might be facilitating predatory men, but Tinder does not cause rape. The only thing that causes rape is a rapist’s decision to rape someone.

The reason dating apps don’t have a review function is all the men who know their violent or abusive behaviour would get them booted and would therefore refuse to sign up. It’s the inevitable outcry about lying women, men being demonised without proof, and all the other rape culture myths that protect predatory men and blame women for men’s violence. It’s also the implicit victim blaming and slut-shaming of women who experience violence at the hands of men they met on dating apps. Patriarchy requires punishment for women who refuse their role as passive objects of male desire. Giving women an active role in exposing male violence, especially to other women, is antithetical to their designated position as silent, acquiescent victims.

Stuck between the #NotAllMen rock and the “what-did-you-expect?” hard place, heterosexual women have nowhere left to go.

What would happen if, as well as the review function, everyone who signed up to a dating app had to provide proof of identification? Or if the payment method was linked to your profile, so abusers who were banned couldn’t create another profile under a different email address? This is standard practice with apps for food delivery, online selling, rideshare and streaming services. Those apps spruik their rating systems and ID checks as a means of building trust with their users. It would be very simple to implement. Implementation, however, is not the problem.

The lacklustre response Tinder gave to allegations of rape is repugnant, but it’s a reflection of our broader acceptance of rape as something that just happens, and the deeply entrenched principle that men who rape do not need to be held accountable for their choices.

This attitude is embedded in so many male dominated power structures. The so-called justice system that convicts less than three percent of rapists. Parliaments that pass laws where men are not expected to understand or consider consent. For example, QLD’s infamous “mistake of fact” defence and the NSW rape legislation that allowed the quashing of Luke Lazarus’ rape conviction, even after a judge agreed the woman involved did not consent. It’s in the legal profession, where we find all the people who advise on law reform, assess admissibility of evidence, instruct juries and judge appeals. This is also the profession shown to have predatory men seeded throughout its upper echelons.

And of course, the police. As the ABC investigation of Tinder reported, a woman told police a man had raped her three times and filmed himself doing it. They gave him a warning. A warning! As if he were a child who nicked a candy bar from a 7 Eleven. She’d have gotten a better response if he’d stolen her car - not an act likely to cause lifelong physical, psychological and emotional injuries.

There’s a fine line to walk between giving people vital information about the modus operandi of rapists and blaming women for not protecting themselves from rape. For the most part, the ABC managed to walk that line.

We need to warn people that predatory men are using the features of dating apps to enable their choice to commit rape. Tinder users need to know the unmatch function deletes all the interactions that might later be needed as evidence and learn how to take screenshots. They need to be aware that serial rapists, such as Glenn Hartland, are not banned from dating apps even after they’ve been charged with multiple counts of rape. They need to clearly understand that Tinder exists to make a profit, not to change the rape culture it so thoroughly embodies.

They also need to know that nothing they can do or wear or say can cause someone to rape them. They need to believe that if they are raped it was not their fault.

The shame of rape belongs only to the rapist and Tinder is a symptom. It is not the disease.

Jane Gilmore was the founding editor of The King’s Tribune. She is now a freelance journalist and author, with a particular interest in feminism, media and data journalism and has written for The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Daily Telegraph, The Saturday Paper and Meanjin, among many others. Jane has a Master of Journalism from the University of Melbourne, and her book FixedIt: Violence and the Representation of Women in the Media was published by Penguin Random House in 2019.

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