In recent years, the popularity of online dating has been on a steady upswing. More and more people have been turning to websites like eHarmony and Match.com to help them find potential partners.
Unfortunately, online dating sites do more than provide alternative settings in which to seriously seek out and meet new partners. These virtual love services can also be potentially dangerous, sometimes acting as centers for engaging in predatory actions.
For some people, the hardest part about online dating is not the question of whether or not someone will message them back, but determining where the line of acceptable conduct is drawn. That is, what qualifies as acceptable behavior on an online dating site, and what crosses the line into inappropriate or even predatory behavior?
What are Online Dating Predators?
The term “dating site predator” may seem misleading or unfair, because it can be used to refer to a wide range of individuals. It is also important to note that despite the implications that come with the phrase, an “online predator” is not necessarily someone who seeks relationships with minors. On the contrary, a predator could be any individual of any age who makes unwanted sexual advancements toward anyone else to the point where the other individual feels threatened or uncomfortable.
The online dating predators we usually think about are those individuals who act illegally or violently toward men or women that they meet online. Other times, though, the term can refer to otherwise harmless individuals who are too forward, make unwanted advances, or pester others to the point of agitation.
In some cases, people accused of being online predators are simply overeager adults or teenagers who don’t know when they’ve been rejected. Since different people have different lines that cannot be crossed, it can be difficult to know when to back off completely, especially when all communication is happening through computers.
Despite these difficulties, it’s extremely important to stay mindful of other people’s boundaries, since unwanted attention can sometimes go as far as to be considered harassment and stalking, and can even lead to sex crime charges.
Certainly, there is a lot of gray area here. Since the offenses take place online, it’s easy to be confused about which areas of the law are valid and the ways in which certain crimes can be punished.
What You Need to Know
If you’re involved in online dating at all, there are certain things that you should be aware of to avoid potential trouble:
Online predators do not necessarily have to meet people face-to-face. Predators can be accused (and found guilty) of crimes that take place exclusively over the internet, and it’s crucial for all involved parties to understand that this does not make their crimes any less valid.
There is no one forum where these advances can take place. Though dating websites are the most common, predatory behavior can also be present in forums such as chat rooms, social networking websites, and even in online video games.
Local and federal laws are still valid. Certain applicable laws, especially Age of Consent laws, are still applicable online. In Illinois, the age of consent is 17. According to Illinois law, sexual solicitation means “to command, authorize, urge, incite, request, or advise another to perform an act by any means including, but not limited to, in person, over the phone, in writing, by computer, or by advertisement of any kind.”
Everything you “say” online can be held against you. All messages you send online can be used as evidence. Even if you think something was deleted or has disappeared forever, if it was online at any point, it can probably be found and used against you.
Potential Consequences of Online Predator Accusations
The charges that online dating site predators can be faced with range from misdemeanor harassment to criminal sexual assault. Given the inherent weight of sex crime charges, it’s always best to do everything in your power to avoid them completely.
However, if you find yourself being charged with sexual predator accusations, it is in your best interest to seek legal council immediately since the possible consequences of being found guilty are too high to risk. None of these charges are insignificant and dealing with any of them requires the utmost attention and care.
To learn your rights and to find out what actions can be taken to protect yourself and your reputation, speak to a knowledgeable lawyer immediately. You need to get someone on your side who has the know-how and the skills to speak on your behalf and protect you from any potentially damaging charges as soon as possible.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.