By Lorna O’Neill
Today we speak to two young Irish women – one who says she was raped on an online date – and another forced to kiss a man. As we delve in to the popular, yet murky and sometimes disturbing world of online dating, the horrors behind meeting with strangers seems evident.
Earlier this month the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre CEO Ellen O’Malley Dunlop warned that dating app Tinder should be avoided because she believed it can attract sexual predators.
Two young women have spoken to us about their harrowing experiences of online dating in a bid to raise awareness among young Irish women.
We are protecting their identities and privacy so that they can tell their story freely.
Ciara, 25, from Kildare, said she had just been in a break-up and decided she would try online dating to get over her ex.
My head was in bits. I was literally drunk on a night out and I did the drunk dialling thing to my ex. We hadn’t been long broke up – and he hung up and basically told me to f**ck off.
“I felt like rubbish, dirt – and lonely. I’ll be honest, I felt really lonely.
“My friends had met guys that night and I was all on my own – heartbroken. So I text this guy I’d been messaging on the dating site all week.
“I loved his photo. He was real muscular and worked out a lot. He was like my ex but better looking, so I thought, why not have some fun.
“He asked me round to his – and I can’t believe I did this – but I felt like c**p.
“I got his address and jumped in a cab. It was like a dream – like I wasn’t doing it. I didn’t tell my friends where I was going because I know they would have disapproved and anyhow, they were too busy with their new men.
“The taxi didn’t take long. He was at the door of his house when I got there. As I got nearer, I realised he looked nothing like his profile photo.
“I felt uneasy and disappointed.”
Ciara said the reason she didn’t leave when she saw the man looked older and less in shape than he had appeared in his profile, was because the streets were “deserted” and the “cab had left.”
“I felt the best option was just to go with it. I went inside. I thought I’ll go home soon when I’ve spent some time with the guy.”
When she got inside the house, a poor looking terrace, the man told her stories of how lost he had been.
He had recently lost his mother, and he had been single for years, unable to meet a “nice girl.”
I started to feel like he was really lost and down and I stayed on to chat longer than I should have.
“We had some drink and that was the last thing I needed. Things moved on. They shouldn’t have but I felt sorry for him and I felt so down about my ex – I feared he had met someone else – that I just let him kiss me.
“Before I knew it we were having sex and I was regretting it. I asked him to stop.
“I explained I was sorry but I had just been in a break-up and I was vulnerable and drunk.”
The next occurrence shocked Ciara. She realised she had lost control and now she was terrified.
He refused to stop. He kept having sex with me and by this time I was begging him to stop.
“He didn’t. He raised his voice and told me to ‘stop talking,’ that he was ‘nearly done.’
I couldn’t believe it. He was raping me now because I’d told him to stop and he was just telling me to stop talking, to continue letting him do what he was doing to my body.
“I was angry, terrified, a lot of emotions at once – but then as I tried to move from under him – he put his hand on my throat and I froze.
“He seemed to get more aggressive as he continued to rape me.
“I was numb. I cried. He eventually stopped and shaking I grabbed my clothes and walked downstairs.”
The man hadn’t finished tormenting Ciara though. He followed her to the living room, where she was calling a taxi on her phone.
He told me I was “shit,” called me a “whore.” He said so many things, then he ordered me out of his house.
“I just left, too afraid to answer him. I called the cab in the street. There was no one round.
“It was a rough neighbourhood. I was afraid. He was looking out of the window at me. I feared he would hurt me, even kill me.
“I walked off up to a pub that was closed a few minutes away, to get away from that man, his house, to meet the cab at the pub.”
Ciara sat on the step outside the pub cowering in fear from the threat that the man could follow her and hurt her again.
After what seemed like “forever,” but in what, was reality, around 10 minutes, the cab arrived.
She cried in the back of the taxi. Ciara never reported the incident to the Gardai. She didn’t tell her friends or family but she has bravely opened up to Ireland Today, in the hope of preventing others from making the same mistake.
As if what she went through was not shocking enough. Ciara said the man continued texting her for “months” after the incident.
“It’s really weird because the first couple of times I answered him and just said I was busy and I had met someone and was happy.
“I hadn’t and I was far from happy after what he had done to me but I thought in some stupid way if I made him feel it was okay, he wouldn’t bother me again.
I was afraid of him finding me, seeing me again on the street.
But when the texts continued for weeks, Ciara began to ignore them. For weeks she would not hear anything and then suddenly she would receive them again.
This continued but each time she ignored them. Eventually she changed her phone number and she will never try online dating again.
I know I should have reported that man. I know I should have but I was ashamed of my own behaviour that night.
I was afraid it would get back to my family if it went to court and in a way I knew I shouldn’t have gone to his house.
“But I do know it wasn’t my fault. At least by talking now and telling what happened to me, others might read this and not make the same awful decisions.
“I would say stay away from online dating because you just don’t know who is on the other end of the computer or phone.”
Ireland Today has also learned of incidents of men with previous histories of sexual offences using online dating as a way of finding women.
One man that we became aware of used his full name on a profile that made him very easy to link back to court records.
And now a gay man in the UK claims he has been infected with HIV after having sex with another man he met on gay dating app Grindr.
The man, from Edinburgh, who goes by the name ‘Matt’, told how he asked for his sexual partner to wear a condom – but that afterwards he feared he had not.
Days later he received terrifying texts telling him his partner hadn’t worn a condom. He underwent tests and found to his horror, he had contracted HIV.
Police are investigating this case and several men have come forward having fallen prey to the same sickening behaviour – feared to have been carried out by one man.
The story, and the comments from Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, the CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, made before the latest horror was reported publicly, have again caused concern that online dating could be exposing us to the world of the unknown, the insidious and even the terrifying, more than ever before.
We could not touch on this issue without of course mentioning the horrific murder of Dubliner Elaine O’Hara, a 36-year-old childcare worker, with a personality disorder, who met killer Graham Dwyer, a middle class architect, on a dating site for those interested in domination, bondage and masochism.
Elaine was murdered in 2012 after undergoing mental and physical torture for months.
We also spoke to Emily from north Dublin, a 28-year-old office worker who tried online dating because she admits she was in a “trap, meeting the wrong men in bars and clubs.”
“I really kind of felt I was getting on and a lot of my friends were getting or had got married,” she said.
“There used to be a shame in going online but now it seems like everyone is doing it so I gave it a try.
“It wasn’t embarrassing anymore – and I could have the craic with the women in the office about it too, showing them the photos of the men I had talked to.”
But Emily admits that after weeks of swiping through photos of men and even their private parts (not something she had wanted to see) – she began to feel she was on a “shopping exercise,” rather than a dating search.
I felt like the way it was set up, made the men feel like products – and I am sure that’s how a lot of the women look to the men too.
“It’s almost like no one is real. It’s weird.”
She put aside her reservations and agreed to set up a few dates but on her first one, she was already beginning to regret her decision.
“I met him in a bar and he didn’t drink. I thought, fine, that’s okay – but then he acted disgusted that I did.
“It’s fairly unusual to go in to a bar with anyone in Dublin and then to drink tea, but this guy did and he made me feel awful for having a pint.
“He told me I was ‘in good shape,’ and then went on to ask why I was single and seemed to be looking for weak spots in his questioning.
“I felt more like I was being quizzed than having fun on a date. The conversation was dry and it was all overwhelming, so I told him I wanted to go home and I lied and said I’d had a nice time.
He reacted badly to my wanting to leave. I’d been there an hour. He began getting aggressive, telling me I was no better than him.
“Then when I started to walk off he insisted I walk with him to the bus stop. I refused three times but in the end, to avoid a public scene, I let him walk me – and though I felt uneasy, I figured the streets were lit and busy enough.”
She let the man walk with her to the bus stop and instantly regretted the decision.
He asked to kiss me and I kissed him on the cheek, though I didn’t want to. He got angry again and started saying I thought I was better than him and I wasn’t.
“He went to kiss me on the mouth and I pulled away. He pulled at my arms and my back, forcing my body to lean in to his.
He started kissing me, and I was absolutely disgusted and terrified. He was hurting me. I pulled away and told him he had better get the f**ck off me or I’d scream for help.
“A man walked past and asked if I was okay and I said I would be when this guy went away. He told the idiot to leave and waited with me until the bus came and he was gone.
“I never used online dating again and that a**hole kept texting me for weeks – until I had to change my number.”
Ellen O’Malley Dunlop said earlier this month: “I think it’s really important for people to know how dangerous it can be because you have perpetrators who are out there seeking vulnerable people and that site (Tinder) is extremely dangerous or can be…for people to access another person just to have sex.
“You can have perpetrators who are seeking to abuse another.
People are going on the Tinder website specifically to have a sexual relationship with another outside the realms of any other type of relationship and that is very concerning.
Ms O’Malley Dunlop, the outgoing chief executive, who is standing as an independent in the Seanad elections, said she would advise people from using the site.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre reported a 33 per cent rise in rapes and sex assaults in the first eight months of 2015 – though there could be no evident link made between this and the increase in popularity of dating sites, and in particular dating apps.
Tinder has 50 million users globally and 10,000 in Ireland. Grindr has more than 10 million users worldwide and is popular in Ireland also.
Both websites and dating sites across the board, offer safety tips. Tinder acknowledges it does not do criminal checks on users and Grindr warns it cannot protect a user’s location, saying even if it blocks the information, technologically skilled people can still find another user.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this feature and need to speak to someone, contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 24 hour helpline on: A National 24-Hour Helpline: 1800 77 88 88