Man Accused of Raping Woman He Met On Christian Mingle

sean-patrick-banksMatch isn’t the only dating site in the news for members behaving badly. Now it’s Spark Networks, owners of ChristianMingle.

A man using the nickname “Rarity” (and sometimes Rylan Butterwood) was arrested on two counts of sexual assault and burglary after allegedly raping a woman he met on Christian Mingle.

Spark Networks says:

In addition to having profile review experts manually review all profile text and photos submitted by members, we have also developed several proprietary automated tools to help identify questionable profiles and to eliminate fraudulent activity in our communities.

On the bottom of the ChristianMingle site one is greeted with the following:

“SPARK NETWORKS USA, LLC DOES NOT CONDUCT BACKGROUND CHECKS ON THE MEMBERS OR SUBSCRIBERS OF THIS WEBSITE.”

So much for proprietary automated tools. “Come on in, we don’t background check you, it’s open season on our members.” That’s what a friend said to me when she saw the verbiage at the bottom of the Christian Mingle website. Is that wording visible on mobile apps as well?

The key phrase is “eliminate fraudulent activity in our communities”. When you’re on a date, you’re not “in” a dating site community. Rape is not “fraudulent activity”. Spark is off the hook in terms of legal responsibility and  this is yet another in a long line of proven or alleged dating-related assaults occurring with greater frequency as online dating becomes more popular.

And to think that Spark just spent $30 million in advertising to grow Christian Mingle in the last year. One can only wonder how the news of this alleged attack will effect members, existing and potential. Find God’s Match for You indeed.

How many more women need to be raped before the dating industry wakes up and realizes that more thorough identity verification and background checks are necessary? 500 rapes? 25 murders? It’s insane that we’re even having this conversation. Maybe there should be 500 dating sites and not thousands. Fewer sites overall, featuring stronger safety measures. But increased safety comes at a cost to dating sites though, and not just the cost of the safety services. If singles have to jump through too many hoops, they simple won’t join a site.

Background checks won’t solve the problem outright, but they certainly will go a long way towards keeping online daters safe, and potentially deal with the scammer/fake profile situation as well. I don’t buy the argument that background checks will give people a false sense of security. People will always exhibit poor decision making skills when it comes to online dating, it’s part and parcel of the experience. It pains me to realize that I’ll likely be writing a similar post next month.

More at LAist.

 

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Comments

  1. I generally agree with the post above. Just one factual error – Spark spent $30 million in the first 3 quarters of 2012, not the full year. Their 4th quarter 2012 numbers haven’t been released yet… but considering they spent $9+ million in Q1 and Q2 and $10+ million in Q3, it’s fair to guess that the total will be closer to $40 million for the full 2012 year.

    As for “profile review experts manually review all profile text and photos submitted by members” … I’ve seen the “good work” that they do. It’s pathetic. I cannot count how many people have sent me profiles via email to laugh at — in terms of how obvious it was that the profiles on Christian Mingle or JDate were fakes.

    It also doesn’t help that JDate (but I’d guess CM is similar) sends out blast emails to its members about new members to check out. They don’t bother waiting until the user has finished filling out their profile — or they’re doing it after the profile was filled out but before the text was approved… Either way, it’s a bone headed move.

    Christian Mingle’s has spent $1.50 in “direct marketing expenses” per dollar of revenue over the past 5 quarters. While it’s true that their membership numbers have gone up significantly, one wonders if it would drop off precipitously if the ad spend went down. Years ago Spark decided to back off on the ad spend for American Singles and the membership numbers dropped like a stone.

    It’s just a guess — but they’re doing something really wrong over there — or people just genuinely hate the site.

    (p.s. financials and membership data were pulled from here: http://investor.spark.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=155314&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1758271&highlight=)

  2. Why is ChristianMingle at fault because some guy decided to rape a woman he met on their site? You want a police state where thoughts are scanned? Why is a dating site responsible for what happens offline?

    If this all had happened offline to begin with (that is, they had never met online), it wouldn’t be news anymore than any other rape is (and, beyond the obvious trauma of the rape victim, the arresting and charging of the rapist, etc.)

    According to http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/02/18/california-man-charged-with-raping-woman-met-on-christian-dating-site/ he raped “the woman in her home”.

    Again, why is ChristianMingle responsible to police the actions of its members offline?

    What background checks do you know of that would have prevented this? Do you want a police state or not?

  3. Sam:
    I agree with you (and with Dave). If there was a foolproof way to scan databases for convicted criminals and compare them to your membership base, I think it would be a good idea. However as I’ve told anyone that would listen, the bigger issue is identity verification. Just because “John Davis” is registered for a dating site, doesn’t mean that it’s John Davis sitting at the computer or that he’s the one going out on the date. Someone could have stolen John’s identity and intends to do harm knowing that John’s identity will come through the background check without a hitch.

    I do think that dating sites do need to tread carefully is when someone complains about a user who has lied in their profile significantly (i.e. they’re basically not the same person) or if someone complains that they’ve been injured, assaulted or harmed in some way by another member. The issue is that people can report false claims, and it’s not like dating sites are going to start employing detectives.

    I find it sad that people don’t realize that meeting someone on a dating site is just as dangerous (or harmless) as picking someone up in a bar. Just because the dating site has the person’s credit card on file (for paid sites) doesn’t mean that they’re good people — just that they paid the monthly fee for the dating site.

    The ONLY time I think a dating site should be held liable is if someone brings it to their attention that there’s a predator on the site (i.e. you meet someone and realize that they’re on a sex offenders list, or they assault you and you provide a copy of the police report) etc. Basically, they’re not out there to protect you… but that doesn’t mean that they should do nothing in certain cases.

  4. Ross: $30 million that we know about at this time.

    Sam: Nobody is saying that it’s CM’s fault and I never said dating sites are responsible, however I think the dating industry should offer a level ID verification and background checks. Not sure why you’re going on about police states. Don’t you want your members to be as safe as possible? From you comment it sounds like you wouldn’t offer services because you personally feel like it’s to Orwellian. We already have our email and phone and Facebook scanned, thoughts are a few years off ;-)

    There are many safety solutions in the marketplace for the dating industry to take advantage of, test, refine and see what works to keep people signing up at a steady clip while keeping them just a bit safer. But as I’ve said all along, it’s up to people to be vigilant and there will always be bad people doing bad things in any social context.

  5. The way I see it — few dating sites are either innovative enough or big enough to properly handle the ID verification. It’s a shame that IDLevel went out of business — but I think that was the best product on the market — just ahead of its time.

    Here’s what could happen though.. a third party company does the verifications etc., and dating sites allow users to populate a badge showing the verification.

    Will that happen? Doubtful. The dating sites will all want to get the FULL payment for the verification rather than just get a piece of the action… But that third party system is probably the only way verifications will come to the free dating sites like OKC, POF, etc.

  6. David, it’s strange that you use this as an example of why sites should perform background checks when there’s nothing in the original article to suggest that the perpetrator has a criminal record.

    Dating sites don’t offer background checks because customers of dating sites don’t care. We can speculate about why this is, but it’s not as if True.com doesn’t exist and didn’t already market the hell out of the concept.

  7. Jeff: We don’t know about his record, or if he’s even guilty of the charge. Identity verification would be a first step, as Ross rightly points out.

    “Dating sites don’t offer background checks because customers of dating sites don’t care.” Don’t care? Clearly you are not hearing singles asking for background checks. In fact, many people think that dating sites already perform some sort of background check. Maybe you own a site and your customers haven’t brought up the issue. Go poll them and report back what you hear.

    True.com’s legislative push was a strong-arm marketing tactic. It was shrewd, but should have been discussed amongst the industry and gotten other sites on board.

    That was also seven years ago. Times have changed.

  8. Dave, re: “Don’t you want your members to be as safe as possible?”

    Of course we want our members to be as safe as possible. We tell all new members about things to be careful about both on our site and meeting people offline. We have all sorts of tips and advice on ChristianCafe.com, as well.

    We police the site using various means to make it as safe as we can, however, we cannot control what happens off site. No ID verification is foolproof and the ones we have seen can offer a false sense of security, e.g. some sites that boast about their’s are only verifiying their *paid* members. What about all their non-paid members?

    Short of a police state, it is impossible to verify 100% of members, regardless, which was my point. And, even in a police state, bad things happen. The difference is that when they catch the perpetrator, he is off’d, along with his entire family (and possibly village). That’s called Syria, Iran, North Korea….

    • Enough with the police state- we use ID verification and background checks to buy houses, cars, guys and other things.

      Everyone agrees it’s impossible to verify 100% of members. Let’s reframe the conversation to what else can be done to protect members? A FAQ is useless. False sense of security based on bkg check is problematic.

      Do we just leave things as they are? Dating with the buddy system? GPS tracking, something else?

  9. Simply put — there’s always a first crime. Other than hiring psychics … how are dating sites supposed to protect members from first time offenders?

    I think people are putting too much of an onus on the dating sites and taking none of the blame for themselves.

  10. A 31 year old woman who was supposed to be on her way from S.C. to Florida to pick up her children was just found murdered by a man she recently met from a dating site. This is so recent to my knowledge it has not been released what dating site. And what difference does it make what site as it could have been any of them. However, as a recently widowed woman all of this makes me hesitant to be involved in a dating site. It is disturbing but then also similar problems can occur by meeting someone in a bar. So what is the answer?

  11. One thing I would like to point out is that even though the previous acts of now convicted sex offender were very very horrible decisions, and there are victims involved, not all convictions are on the same level. (e.g. those falsely accused, using a tree in public to relieve body fluids, child pornography on the computer, undercover sting operation where some include a potential victim or just officer’s show up for the arrest, and actual sexual assault.)

    All convicted sex offenders must undergo counseling/group therapy in prison, attends victim advocate classes, etc. Then when they get out they are on probation and cannot even look at adult porn. They are given lie detector tests throughout their probation and undergo even further intense one on one therapy and group therapy once a week.

    There is less recidivism with sex crimes than there is with drugs. I personally feel that drugs are just as violent because of what it does to people and how it affects many lives as well. How many drug pushers do you think have had sex with under aged girls when the under aged addict wants drugs? More times than you can count. How many dope dealers sold a person drugs and that person went out and killed someone in a vehicle accident because they were higher than a kite? Same thing with alcohol… how many lives do you think have been utterly destroyed or scarred for life because of it?

    There are those who have been convicted of sex offenses that have truly changed their lives around for the better willingly and do their best to lead productive lives despite the scarlet letter. Yes there are those who continue to do what they want to do and mess it up for everyone else. But that is also true in every aspect of life no matter if you are a convicted felon or just your average person on the planet.

    I am sure the ones that are 100% adamantly against offending again want to lead a normal life as much as possible under the circumstances. If they are single they desire to have someone to love and care for in the right way and have a proper relationship.

    Why in the world does the world want to continue to crucify the mistake that was made over and over again? God Himself doesn’t even do that. That horrible mistake they made has already been paid for by the now ex-felon with time served given by the judge… who was elected by the elected officials/or by voters; and the voters voted for the elected officials.

    When a felon has already put in their time, the “people” need to get off their high horses, stop trying to circumvent the system… or whatever it is that you are doing wrong; you just have not been “caught”… yet, and give the ones who are really trying to be productive members of society again a break!

    Then those I spoke of earlier who just want to do what they want to do no matter the consequences…yes they need to be locked up for life. Other than that, treat everyone on an individual case by case basis. I believe everyone wants a former offender to be successful and productive in society again. Then WE ALL WIN!

    So… yes be careful. Just do not fail to recognize that perhaps the man or woman that is the potential love of your life, even though they made a mistake in the past…will keep those mistakes… in the past.

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