Apps like Grindr are often a refuge for teens looking for a way into the gay scene — because they're either yet to come out, or they don't really know anyone else their age who is openly gay.
On top of that, there's the fear of being bullied at school if they're spotted on dates or in gay bars. While dating sites and apps are a way for gay teens to explore their sexuality with acceptance in a sometimes hostile society, they can mean users find themselves in a vulnerable position, agreeing to meet older men they haven't met before, in unfamiliar places. To find out more about the effect that can have on queer kids' lives, we spoke to four young men about their experience with secretly dating through sites and apps.
When was your first time on a gay dating site? When I was about 13 years old I visited a website for gay teenagers. The site created a safe space to meet other young people who hadn't come out yet — it made you upload a photo of your ID and someone on staff was on hand to check your identity via a webcam. By the time I turned 18 and was out of the closet, I had already tried dating apps like Grindr and Tinder.
What were your experiences with Grindr like?
It was completely different to what I was used to. I was suddenly getting unsolicited dick pics and the tone of the messages was much more aggressive. Were you meeting up with people when you were still a minor? I was about 16 when I went on my first date with a guy, but he was around my age. And I've gone on dates with men who turned out to be older, but had catfished me by pretending they were my age.
At that point I was still in the closet, so I would go on these dates in secret. But actually, about a month ago, I had a particularly bad experience with an older man who had used a fake profile. Can you tell me about that experience? He told me he was 19, but when he arrived at mine he looked about He sort of pushed his way into my house and forced me to do some sexual things that I didn't want to do.
I was just in shock, but I got the feeling that it would be better to cooperate than risk things getting worse if I resisted. Afterwards, I found out that this guy had approached me several times before and had probably planned the whole thing for a while. When was your first time on a dating site? I was 15 and still in the closet.
I knew that I was attracted to men, but at that time I just wanted to discover and learn more about my sexuality and experiment with it.
I ended up on websites like Bullchat and GayRomeo, where I mainly chatted to older guys. Didn't you know people your age to date?
Many gay teens use apps to explore their sexuality in secret, which can put them at VICE: When was your first time on a gay dating site? But even though I was a bit scared, I created an online profile using my real name. I started dating online about four years ago at the insistence of a close friend. He helped me set up a fake Facebook account to explore gay.
No, I didn't know anyone who was out. But then at the same time I also hadn't told people that I was gay. I was afraid that it would get back to my parents and everyone in our Moroccan community would find out. That's why I had to date in secret. Where were you going on these dates?
It is truly a scam.. If you have seen some of these guys try to target you on the dating sites, do not get down on yourself or feel you are a loser …. If he or she takes long to send pictures, dont trust thay person…just ignore him. Sent me a nude and asked me to hook up, said I wasnt there to hook up and I was looking to sell tickets. But once I came out of the closet, I was able to get in touch with guys my own age. I was very supportive and loving to him but he never appreciated. Read this to find out why,.
The guys I was meeting were a lot older, so they would invite me over to their houses. When I think back on it now, I sometimes feel so abused. A year-old knows that dating a year-old is wrong. In my opinion, apps and sites like GayRomeo, Bullchat and Grindr are not the right way for gay teenagers to learn about the gay scene. What I was doing was really dangerous, but at the time it didn't feel like I had any other options. I couldn't go to a bar to flirt like my straight friends did, because I was afraid that someone would see me in a gay bar and tell everyone.
I was taking these risks just to get some kind of a connection with the gay scene.
Did you ever tell anyone where you were? No, and now I realise how dangerous that was.
I was deliberately going on dates in neighbourhoods where nobody knew me. It felt like I was living a double life and I never spoke about what I was experiencing with friends or family members, which made me feel really lonely. And then to suppress that feeling of loneliness, I would just meet up with another guy. Tinder is used predominately by heterosexual daters while Grindr is a gay dating app. Reports of violent and sexual crimes were the most common, with allegations of violence against the person and reports of sex offences, including grooming, rapes and the sexual exploitation of children.
The figures come from police reports where the apps are mentioned in the crime report and does not automatically mean the app was used directly by the criminal.
We strongly encourage users to report offences and seek support if they become a victim of any type of crime. Andy Phippen, professor of social responsibility in IT at Plymouth University, said it was a "growing problem, particularly around sextortion-type activities". He said: Last August, Daniel Edwards and his partner Kristofer Wagner, from Gloucester, were jailed for blackmail after threatening to expose a married man they met on Grindr. And former teacher Gary Pearce, from Sidcup in Kent, was jailed for five years last September for grooming a year-old boy he met on Grindr.
In September the Garda in Ireland said officers in Dublin had arrested a man on suspicion of raping a woman he met through Tinder. Britain's largest force, the Metropolitan Police, recorded the highest number of alleged crimes potentially linked to the apps - in which Tinder was mentioned in and 91 in which Grindr was mentioned.
Gay and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: I suspect these figures are just the tip of the iceberg.
H e said: It's all too easy for children to say they are older, or for an adult to pretend to be younger. A spokesman for Stonewall said the figures are "shocking" and Victim Support said people using the apps should tell a friend where they are going before meeting anyone.
The figures come from police reports where Tinder and Grindr has been used in the description of an allegation.