The Most Dangerous (Dating) Game: Online Dating or College Campuses?

Moving back home after college is great if you’re lucky enough to not pay rent, but it does come with a few drawbacks. Gone are the days when I could float in and out of my campus apartment, with only my roommates and a potted cactus to keep tabs on me. My cactus sometimes did a better job than my roommates, to be honest. My mom constantly wants to know where I am and who I’m with.

I’m recently single, and I wouldn’t mind starting to casually date again. Say what you will about Tinderellas and unsolicited dick pics, but my friends and I have mercifully enjoyed positive (or at least, neutral) experiences with online dating. My mother was just short of horrified when I told her that I was going to try to go on a few online dates. I should know by now to keep my business to myself.

Initially, I assumed it was a generational thing. My mom is 40 years older than I am. The Internet didn’t even exist when she was in the dating game. Weird maternalism over your adult daughter’s sexual autonomy aside, wanting your kids to be safe when dating is something most parents probably worry about.

This raises an interesting question. Is going out on a date with that Tinder hottie any more dangerous than getting cozy in the corner of a frat party with the bro from your Intro to Psych class?

Frighteningly, it is virtually impossible to determine just how many instances of rape and sexual assault occur from online dating, according to law enforcement officials. Sex-based crimes are underreported to begin with, and ones that stem from online encounters are no exception. Furthermore, there are no databases that exist solely for the purpose of tracking sexual assaults that are linked to online dating websites and apps.

This is alarming, given how popular online dating is. The online dating industry is valued at $2.1 billion, with roughly 40 million users in the US on over 1500 distinct sites and apps. Lack of official data notwithstanding, that is a huge pool of potential assailants and victims. There are countless examples of women who reported meeting up with an online date, only be assaulted or attacked minutes into the encounter. For every guy who creates an online dating profile hoping to meet a nice girl to take to that new Italian place and maybe see the latest Judd Apatow flick, there are creepy perverts solely looking to lure women into a dangerous situation. For juvenile internet users, the US Department of Justice reported that 93% of minors who met up with an adult from the Internet had some type of sexual contact with them.

Since no concrete statistics are recorded, it is almost impossible to conclude whether meeting a rando online is any more dangerous than meeting a classmate at the campus watering hole or frat party. Which then begs the question if young women are better off forgoing OKCupid and Tinder and sticking to dating the people they know on campus.

College is a wonderful fairy land where students can actually choose their course of study, dorm living is like a never-ending sleep over with your best friends, and alcohol flows from the faucets like water. However, some colleges are also unfortunately susceptible to becoming rape prone cultures, or environments whose attitudes, discourses and activities tolerate and promote an atmosphere of sexualized violence against women.

There are a few key reasons why colleges seem to be breeding grounds for sexual misconduct. Colleges where most of the social life occurs off-campus, as well as colleges that glorify athletic and/or Greek life, are particularly susceptible to turning into rape prone cultures. Overall, universities that promote a “culture of silence” in conjunction with aggressive male sexuality are the ones most likely to experience higher instances of sexual assault.

Within the last few years, it appears that there has been an increase in the number of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses. Or at least, the number of reported sexual assaults. One of the largest studies of its kind by the Association of American Universities estimates that 23% of female college students experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact on campus. Furthermore, 11% consisted of either oral or vaginal penetration. Vanderbilt, Princeton, Duke, Columbia, Florida State and of course UVA are just a handful of the universities that experienced high profile sexual assault cases within the last few years.

Of course, athletes and fraternity brothers are not the only individuals who perpetrate sexual assaults on campuses. And most athletes and fraternity brothers are productive members of their college communities who don’t do anything more sinister than leaving Natty Light cans scattered around their yards. The real problem lies in the power and privilege afforded to these groups. On most (but certainly not all) campuses, frats and sports houses exert major social control: they provide the party venue, the alcohol, and the key to social life on that campus. Acceptance into this world is as intoxicating at the jungle juice that may or may not have a date rape drug slipped into it.

Nominally, online dating seems sketchier due to the anonymity afforded by the Internet. The trope of the 50-year-old basement-dwelling pervert masquerading as a handsome young man is alive and well. Given that the three major online dating companies (eHarmony, Match.com, and Sparks Network) only just started implementing background checks in 2012, women need to be incredibly cautious and vigilant when agreeing to meet men from the Internet.

The same can be said for dating in general, particularly for young women whose dating pool consists of their campus and college town. There is a false sense of security in assuming that just because someone is part of your campus community, they don’t pose a threat to your physical and sexual wellbeing.

While navigating the dark waters of the Internet can be daunting, dating on college campuses can be potentially more perilous, given that many campuses are incredibly rape-prone and show no signs of changing. Until more data are compiled on Internet dating and sexual assaults, there is no way to definitively conclude which is truly more dangerous.

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