SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio (WJW) — They seem like Mr. Right, but could actually be a new kind of sexual predator, prowling internet dating websites and apps, Ohio law enforcement officials said Tuesday.
“Sex offenders are going on these sites to lure victims,” said Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan-Walsh. “We have had several cases of women who have been sexually assaulted as a result of meeting somebody on a dating site.”
Both local and national law enforcement officials say they’ve seen a growing number of the alleged incidents, but it’s impossible to know the exact numbers because many times the victims feel ashamed to come forward.
“It is a growing problem,” said Bevan-Walsh. “We have a case right now that we are prosecuting where the individuals met on Facebook.”
An Akron area man named William Queen, 49, was indicted on rape and felonious assault charges in November 2019.
In October 2019, Matthew Fountaine, 43, was convicted on several charges including gross sexual imposition and obstructing justice after assaulting a 30-year-old woman he met on the dating app Plenty of Fish.
“They texted back and forth for several weeks and then they agreed to meet, and the victim agreed to go on a hike with him,” said Bevan-Walsh.
The last thing she remembered was Fountaine giving her a bottle of water. She woke up the next day on a couch inside of an unfamiliar house. A rape kit completed at Cleveland Clinic Akron General confirmed the assault.
“It’s not a victim’s fault when that happens but, unfortunately, most victims do go back and blame themselves,” said Bevan-Walsh. “But the reality is it’s the offender’s fault.”
These are calculating predators, said FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson.
However, there are some red flags that a dater’s intentions might be sinister. Anderson said they will present themselves as being the perfect man who is looking for a serious relationship. They might even text or have long conversations for weeks before actually meeting in person but beware, she said, because it may all be part of the grooming process.
“One of the big signs is that they’re saying all the right things way too quickly, calling you pet names way too quickly. They’re telling you how they feel about you way too quickly, all those things that you think, this is way too fast,” said Anderson.
In Wayne County, Kevin Jamison, 43, was convicted in June 2019 of raping a woman he met on Plenty of Fish, and this past January a Cleveland police officer Matthew Piter was in court charged with raping a woman he met on Tinder.
“We see so many diverse cases. I wish I could put a box around who is a predator and who is not,” said Kelly Cary, Director of Clinical Services at the Rape Crisis Center of Summit and Medina Counties.
But even those checks might not stop some predators.
“You shut down one account and the person gets arrested or something like that and they can get out and, you know, pop up another site,” said Cary.
WJW reached out to Match Group, the parent company of Plenty of Fish and Tinder for comment, but have not heard back as of this report.
However, on their website they outline their “Commitment to Safety” and state that they are constantly scrutinizing internal processes because they want “every single person making connections through a Match Group brand to have safe experiences.”
They also encourage users to report any inappropriate, suspicious or predatory behavior immediately.
“It doesn’t matter what website it is, what social media site it is they’re all susceptible to some kind of bad stuff happening,” said Special Agent Anderson. “All of these websites have predators on them. We’re not saying everyone is a predator, of course, but you have to watch out because they’re looking for people who are vulnerable.”
So it’s important to protect yourself.
They suggest women pick the location and choose a place that is familiar, where they might know the staff or have friends. In fact, they say, never go alone and beware of anyone trying to isolate you or not wanting to meet in a public place.
“Don’t be afraid to go on group dates or multiple dates before you really spend any one on-one-time with that person,” said Cary.
Take time to research the person’s social media accounts and online presence, and don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for their opinion.
Although many predators will use aliases, they say, it’s also a good idea to check their name against sexual offender’s registries.
“Look at their pictures, their profile history and who are they reaching out to,” said Cary.
Finally, they don’t want women to feel ashamed if they are victimized, because it can happen to women of all ages and from every socioeconomic background. They encourage victims to come forward and report the assaults to both law enforcement and the dating sites.
Because, they say, that is the only way to stop these predators.
“That is something we are really working on here at the prosecutor’s office is empowering women to come forward and report these assaults. We do believe you, and will believe you,” said Bevan-Walsh who recently launched a new initiative called “Stop Sexual Assault – Start by Believing”
If you are a victim in need of immediate help you can contact the Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit Counties, a RAINN partner, hotline at 877-906-7273.