Cambridgeshire Police: Online Dating Warning
13 February 2018, 08:06 | Updated: 13 February 2018, 08:35
Police in Cambridgeshire have launched a campaign to raise awareness of the potential dangers of online dating.
Ahead of Valentine's Day, the number of people looking for love online is at its peak, with some online dating platforms predicting as much as a 42% rise in membership.
This forecasted increase has prompted police concerns that cases of rape and serious sexual assault may also rise.
DI Kate Anderson, from the force's Rape Investigation Team, said: "Unfortunately we have had cases of serious sex offences following contact made through online dating sites.
"Through this campaign we hope that we can spread the message that online dating can be a healthy, fun way of meeting people, but it is vital that you prioritise your safety when speaking to strangers.
"While the majority of people using these sites are doing so with honest intentions our experiences show us that there are people on there who display sexual predatory behaviour.
"By taking sensible precautions around meeting in public places and utilising initiatives such as 'Ask for Angela' we can reduce the risks around these type of offences.
"We would also ask that if anyone has concerns around the behaviour of someone on these sites that they report them to us. While we absolutely want to prevent people becoming victims we also want to target potential offenders."
The campaign will focus on reducing the number of rapes and sexual assaults reported in the county following contact through internet dating websites and apps.
The campaign will be supported by the Online Dating Association (ODA), a regulatory body dedicated to maintaining an industry standard for online dating service providers.
The ODA's Chief Executive, Andrew McClelland said: "With approximately ten million active users in the UK, online dating has continually grown in prominence as a platform for people to meet new partners."
"It is easy to forget, in the excitement of being contacted by someone new, that they might not be who they purport to be. This campaign provides a fantastic platform to inform members of the public how to avoid risks when searching for romance online."
In addition to safety guidelines from the ODA, the campaign will encourage the public to 'Ask for Angela' if a date isn't going to plan. The scheme has gained global attention for providing a subtle way of asking for assistance in an uncomfortable situation.
Police and Crime Commissioner, Jason Ablewhite said: "Anyone going on a date needs to be safe in the knowledge that if things are not going well, and you feel threatened in any way, there is help at hand. Saying 'Is Angela here?' alerts bar and club staff to the fact that you are feeling uncomfortable and need to get away. They can then order you a taxi or offer a safe place until a friend or relative can come and collect you.
"I would urge everyone to spread the advice provided to make sure dates are the enjoyable occasions they should be."
The scheme, which was adopted by a number of pubs across the county last year, involves people giving a simple code-word to bar or club staff.