How do you know the people you meet online are who they say they are? Even in the modern age, e-dating remains a risky business, a reputation fueled, no doubt, by such high-profile cases as the “Craigslist Killer” in Boston.
While many sites offer safety tips and advice, they do not screen their members based on criminal histories – a situation that, according to one California woman who has filed suit against Match.com, set her up as prey to a violent sexual predator with a long rap sheet.
“This ordeal completely blindsided me because I had considered myself savvy about online dating safety,” the woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, said in an April 6 press release.
The woman, who was described only as an Ivy League graduate working in television and film, claims that a “pleasant” date turned rapidly into a “nightmare” when the man she’d met through the popular Internet dating site, Alan Paul Wurtzel, brutally sexually assaulted her and forced her to perform oral sex.
Wurtzel is no stranger to these allegations. He has been convicted on six separate occasion of sexual battery in Los Angeles alone, a fact that did not prevent him from joining Match.com and befriending his accuser last year. Felony charges for the assault in question are still pending.
“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,” said the woman’s attorney, Mark L. Webb, in a statement. He and his client are seeking a temporary restraining order against the e-dating site that would prevent further members from joining until a system from screening sexual predators could be installed.
In response to the lawsuit, Match.com said earlier this week that it would begin screening its users against the national sex offender database, a process that is anticipated to take 60 to 90 days to complete. In an email to the Associated Press, Match.com president Mandy Ginsberg stated that, though the company has decided against the screening process for years due to its “historical unreliability,” the decision to implement it has been made after discussions with providers and advisers to the e-dating service.
“We’ve been advised that a combination of improved technology and an improved database now enables a sufficient degree of accuracy to move forward with this initiative, despite its continued imperfection” Ginsberg said.
Webb feels this added measure would be both relatively cheap and would prevent a repeat of his client’s assaults, simply by weeding out those with previous convictions for sexual assault; “This history could be rapidly uncovered through simple, inexpensive technological means, roughly estimated at less than five dollars a subscriber,” he explained.
These measures would follow in the footsteps of sites like MySpace and Facebook, who agreed to more stringent security standards in 2008 and have provided names of registered sex offenders using their services in past legal battles. According to The Safer Online Dating Alliance, legislation is in the works in states like Florida, Virginia, and Ohio to provide full disclosure to users of dating sites as to whether or not criminal background checks have been run on their members.
Until then, online dating should be treated with the same prudence as any other anonymous endeavor; as Match.com states in their practical tips for On- and Off-line dating, “There is no substitute for acting with caution when communicating with any stranger who wants to meet you.”