More and more people are seeking online connections that turn into offline encounters. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of American adults have used online dating sites and/or mobile dating apps. There are also many ways to meet people online beyond dating sites, such as networking platforms, social media, gaming sites, and activity forums.
Talking to someone online can build a strong connection with someone you’ve never met in person, but that connection shouldn’t overshadow your commitment to safety. Consider these tips to enhance your safety when you plan to meet someone offline.
- Pick a public place. The first time you meet someone in person, choose a public setting that is easy to find. Give the person time to earn your trust before you meet in a private location, like their home.
- Do some research. A quick online search can help you confirm details this person has shared in previous exchanges and may give you a better visual to help you recognize them in person. You can also run a search on the National Sex OffenderPublic Website (NSOPW), a national resource that pulls data from state, territory, and tribal sex offender registries.
- Go in with an exit strategy. Be prepared to return home safely. Meet the person at the destination instead of accepting a ride. Have cash on hand and a number for a taxi company or ride sharing app. This way, if something goes wrong or doesn't feel right during the meeting, you can be responsible for your own ride home. If you start to feel uncomfortable, you can leave at any time. You may find it helpful to tell the person you are meeting that you have plans directly following your date.
- Tell someone about your plans. Let a friend know where you’re going, when you’re going, and how long you plan to be there. You can arrange for them to check in with you via text at a certain point, giving you the opportunity to leave the meeting if needed.
- Hold off on revealing personal information. Don’t offer up too much personal information or history on the first encounter. Be wary of someone who asks for details that seem too personal, such as questions about your finances or your home address.
- You’re allowed to be skeptical. If you start to feel uncomfortable or uneasy, acknowledge these feelings. Don’t feel pressured to push aside your concerns for the sake of giving someone a chance. Trust your gut.
- It’s OK to lie. If you want to exit the situation immediately and are concerned about raising flags or upsetting the other person, it’s okay to lie. Tell them you have an appointment to make, you’re not feeling well, or that you have a family member to tend to. You are never obligated to remain in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, scared, or threatened.
- Take extra steps when traveling a long distance. Traveling safely is always a priority, but there are a few additional safety aspects to consider when you’re traveling to meet someone in person for the first time. Before you book travel, you can ask the person to video chat to get a better sense of how they communicate in a face-to-face situation. If you don’t know someone in the area you’re visiting, consider bringing a friend along. Plan to stay in your own lodging, like a hotel or a friend’s house, and keep this address to yourself. Be responsible for your own transportation throughout the trip. Let someone from home know where you’re going and when they should expect you back.
If you experienced unwanted sexual contact after meeting someone offline, help is available. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.