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Dating Apps: The Safety Reform

A swipe in the right direction. Zoe van der Merwe, sheds light on new safety measures to help provide support and protection to dating app users.


In late January 2023, the NSW Government proposed the implementation of a reformed disclosure scheme, allowing users on dating apps to see if their partner has any history of violent behaviour. [1]


This call for reform comes in the light of the recent death of a NSW woman by a man she met online, who unknowingly to her, had an extensive history of domestic violence. [2] The case sparked discussions around the registration process for dating services, advocating that people with known violent backgrounds should not be allowed to use these apps. [3]


A spokesperson for Michelle Rowland, the federal communications minister, said that online safety, specifically on dating apps, was a “growing community concern.” [4] The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), revealed in a survey released November last year, that three out of four users have experienced some form of harassment and or violence on these platforms. [5] Dr Rachel Burgin, a lecturer of Criminology and Swinburne Law school stated, “we shouldn’t be waiting until there’s an absolute tragedy before we start reflecting on the way technology is used or can be used by perpetrators. We need to design for it.” [6]


So, what reforms did the government discuss?

In January, the federal government met with dating app operators, police, domestic violence survivors and experts, in an effort to find a tangible solution to these alarming rates of violence experienced by dating app users.


The government advocated that dating services needed to be held accountable, introducing measures of prevention. [7] In line with AIC recommendations, the government wanted apps to change the ways complaints by users are dealt with, making sure people were not just another “data point.” [8] They pushed for dating apps to have easier processes of reporting incidents as well as transparent support services for victims and policies that hold perpetrators responsible for their actions. [9]


From the dating app summit three goals were set to work towards: [10]

1. Preventing exploitation by perpetrators.

2. Supporting users.

3. Safer online practices.


Some dating apps already making changes

Many dating apps, among the most popular, have already begun to implement additional safety measures. From safety guides that users must agree to utilise the app, to using AI to detect the use of harmful language. Work has also begun to make background checks available on the platforms themselves. [11]


NSW own proposal for reform

In NSW following the federal summit, there has been a proposal of a state-wide implementation of The Right to Know scheme first trialled in 2016. The reformed scheme would allow people to access both a hotline and an online portal and request a background check on their partner. Under the Domestic Violence Act 2007, information of this nature is allowed to be given without consent if it is believed to prevent a threat to someone’s life or health. [12]


The NSW government reiterated that the service would be designed in collaboration with domestic violence organisations and privacy controls would be a top priority. [13] However, Tara Hunter, director of Full Stop Australia, raised concerns of the scheme’s safety. She stated, “we need to think really clearly about safety considerations for people receiving that information ... if they’re using an online portal or a phone, making sure they’re not being tracked by the person who is potentially harming them.” [14]


The next steps

Within the next few months, dating apps will be pushed to do even more. While potential legislative changes begin, dating services will be asked to start implementing measures to identify perpetrators, keep users safe, as well as introduce more extensive education to all.


For readers in Australia, help and support can be found by contacting:

1800RESPECT National Helpline: 1800 737 732 or 1800RESPECT.org.au.

Mensline Australia: 1300 789 978

Lifeline (24 crisis helpline): 131 114

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