In Cambridgeshire, more than 1700 serious sexual offences were reported over the last year, police have confirmed.
As lockdown eases and many plan to meet their online dates for the first-time face-face this weekend, police are urging members of public to exercise caution and report suspicious activity.
Studies suggest that more than 10 million people use online dating services in the UK, making it the single largest source of new relationships.
Cambridgeshire Police revealed that in a recent Twitter poll, 10% of people said they planned to meet someone they had met online during lockdown.
Det Inspector Amerjit Singh, from the force’s Rape Investigation Team, said: “While the majority of people using online dating sites and apps are doing so with honest intentions, our experiences show us there are people on there who display sexual predatory behaviour.
“With lockdown restrictions easing this weekend we are likely to see an increase in people meeting in person for the first time and we want to ensure people remain safe.
“There are a number of ways people can do this, such as meeting in a public place, having a friend call you during the date to check on you and ensuring you know as much as possible about the person you are meeting.
“People’s safety is of paramount importance to us so we are keen to hear from anyone who is concerned about the behaviour of someone they are talking to or have met online. This can be done online via our website or by calling 101.
“Sadly we have experienced cases where people have been seriously sexually assaulted as a result of meeting someone online and we want to do everything we can to stop this happening.”
DI Singh added: “Over the coming months we have a number of initiatives planned to help protect people who are using online dating, as part of wider activity to reduce the number of serious sexual assaults and rapes in the county.
“While we will always focus on ensuring those who are victims of sexual offences have the support they need and target those responsible for the crimes, we remain committed to trying to stop them happening in the first place.”
If you plan to meet someone through a dating app or website, these are some words of cautions shared by the police:
- Be sure to tell a friend or family member
- The name of the person you are meeting
- Where and when you are meeting
- What time you plan to arrive home
You can also arrange to call your friend or family member during and after your meeting – to reassure them that you are ok, or to alert them that you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
For more information on online dating and personal safety, visit www.cambs.police.uk/onlinedating.