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Prosecutors given additional tools to tackle harmful myths about online dating

|News, Sexual offences

With studies suggesting one in three relationships now start online*, the Crown Prosecution Service has provided additional tools for prosecutors to tackle harmful myths and stereotypes around online dating head on, to reflect this rapid shift in the way people date.

In addition to updated legal guidance for rape and serious sexual offences, prosecutors can now access the latest information about online dating to contextualise the cases they deal with. This includes examples of evolving terms used in modern dating and a list detailing the different dating sites and how these are used - making sure all cases we work on consistently reflect the rapidly changing world of online dating.

These tools enable our prosecutors to address any harmful stereotypes that exist around the use of dating websites or behaviour online, so they can contextualise the ‘new normal’ of meeting people when considering and prosecuting these cases.

Given the pace and scale of these dramatic changes, many people - understandably - aren’t aware of, or don’t understand, the world of modern dating. This lack of awareness may fuel harmful stereotypes which can have the effect of holding victims responsible for abuse.

Siobhan Blake, rape lead at the CPS, said: “There has been a real move in terms of intimate relationships on digital platforms - with around a third now starting online. We are seeing these changes filter through to our own work, with many cases including intimate conversations or photos exchanged before people actually meet.

“Unfortunately, harmful stereotypes about online dating still exist and are changing as the use of these sites continues to grow. To stay ahead of this, we continuously update the tools and guidance our prosecutors use - providing them with the latest insights to contextualise information and behaviours in court.

“Our role is to make it explicitly clear that consent is specific to the act - simply because someone consents to intimate photos or certain behaviours at one time does not mean that there is some sort of ‘blanket consent’ for other sexual activity.”

The additional information given to prosecutors highlights that a significant number of young women using online dating sites have been sent unwanted sexually explicit images (57%) or experienced unwanted contact (60%)**, information which can be used by the prosecution to show a suspect’s pattern of behaviour when presenting their case.

The glossary of dating terms includes phrases such as ‘gaslighting’ which is manipulating someone psychologically and ‘vulturing,’ the act of staying in the shadows awaiting the romantic failure of an acquaintance so you can swoop in. The glossary helps prosecutors to relate to complainants as they build their case and contextualise it in a way that is easy to understand at court.

These tools to assist prosecuting complex rape and serious sexual offence cases (RASSO) build on our ambitious RASSO 2025 strategy which aims to look at all aspects of how rape is prosecuted to identify areas for improvement and build confidence that every case is being dealt with expertly and fairly.

Siobhan continued: “People have changed the way they meet and connect, so it’s vital that everyone in the criminal justice system understands the wider context of these changes and reflects these in our work.

“The information in these tools are part of an enormous package of measures that we’re taking to improve prosecution rates and deliver justice for victims of these horrific crimes.”

*Source: e-Harmony and the Imperial College Business School

**Source: Pew Research Centre Study, based on a survey conducted among 4,860 US adults

Notes to editors


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