Would we all feel safer if sexual predators with a criminal history were screened from online dating sites? Of course. But is it practical?According to a press release issued by the Law Offices of Mark L. Webb, who are representing “Jane Doe,” in 2010 she met Paul Wurtzel at a cafe in West Hollywood. An otherwise pleasant date ended in a “nightmare” when Wurtzel forced his date to perform oral sex on him. (Felony charges against him are currently pending in L.A. Superior Court.) Jane Doe, an Ivy League graduate who worked in television and film, was shocked to later find out he had six separate convictions for sexual battery. “This ordeal completely blindsided me because I had considered myself savvy about online dating safety,” she said.
On April 5, Match.com and its owners, IAC, received a letter from Jane Doe’s lawyer calling for the site to better screen its applicants for criminals. “Match.com must begin to take some responsibility in protecting paying subscribers,” Doe said in the press release. “I do not want this to happen to anyone else.”
Adds Doe’s lawyer, Mark L. Webb:
“Match.com should not permit its website to be used to facilitate meetings between innocent members of the public and convicted sexual predators who are easily discoverable, as was Mr. Wurtzel. We ask that Match.com voluntarily institute a basic screening process that disqualifies from membership anyone who has a documented history of sexual assault. This history could be rapidly uncovered through simple, inexpensive technological means, roughly estimated at less than five dollars a subscriber.”
First of all, why was a guy with SIX convictions for sexual battery against him not in jail? Six! That is the problem here.
But let’s get to the meat of the issue: Is the onus to keep Bad Guys off an online dating site the job of the site’s administrators? I would have to know more about what this “basic screening process” entails. People enjoy online dating because it’s relatively easy to set up and provides a certain level of anonymity — some sites just ask for an email address, while others don’t ask for much more than your form of payment as verification of your ID. To get yourself hooked into a screening process, I’m assuming you have to provide more personal information. From a business standpoint, I’m sure Match.com knows customers won’t be into opening up to Big Brother (even if they have nothing to hide). They also may not want to institute a screening process because then they could be held legally liable if a Bad Guy slips through the cracks and assaults someone.
Of course I’m sympathetic to Jane Doe’s horrible ordeal — all of The Frisky staff are or have been online daters, as are many of my female friends. None of us go on a date thinking Romeo may be a sexual predator, because those people should be in jail, right? It seems absurd that sexual predators are not allowed to live around schools, for instance, but they are allowed to use online dating services.
But I just don’t see this happening. I would imagine Match.com will do anything possible in light of this incident to convey that the responsibility is on their customers, not them. So, it’s probably best for all of us online daters to remember our safety skills:
- Get your date’s first and last name beforehand and Google him
- Meet in a public place
- Provide your own transportation to and from the date
- Bring money for a cab in case your car breaks down
- Keep your alcohol intake minimal (so you can get yourself home)
- Don’t go anywhere alone with someone until you’ve developed trust
Oh, yes. And don’t sexually assault anyone.
If you’ve been the victim of a sexual assault, please check out my piece, What To Do If You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted