If you enjoy blind dates or use online dating services, odds are you’ll be safe – and the worst-case scenario is a few hours of abject boredom.
Unfortunately, sexual predators are a reality, and many utilize first dates as opportunities to select their targets.
“They are extremely manipulative,” warns Steve Thompson, sexual aggression services coordinator at Central Michigan University . Predators rely on anonymity or use phony names to avoid identification.
So, how do you protect yourself? And how can you be cautious, without becoming paranoid?
You can take steps to ensure your safety, while still allowing yourself to have a good time.
Meetings versus Dates
Any first encounter should be considered a “meeting” – not a “date,” according to Dr. Jackie Black, a California-based psychologist and relationship coach.
“The purpose of this meeting is to determine if you want to plan a second meeting – and that second meeting may be your first date. It may just be a second meeting to determine if there will be a third meeting, which might be the first date! These initial in-person meetings are for the purpose of determining if there is enough chemistry, interest and common ground to spend more time and money exploring the possibility that you may be a good match for each other.”
If you meet someone online, never make a date without first talking to the person on the phone.
“I recommend moving to the phone after two to five emails,” Dr. Black says. “The faster you move from communicating via email to the telephone, the faster you will be able to pay attention to little clues that may alert you to a potential problem. Telephone conversations provide lots of rich material so you can make the decision to meet him or her in person or stop the communication altogether.”
Most people are on their best behavior when you first meet, whether it’s online, on the phone or in person, she says.
“Stay observant, and don’t make any excuses for any bad or questionable behavior,” she says. “You are gradually collecting information to assess and determine if you want to meet this person face to face. This is not the stage at which you are listening to determine if this person is a good match for you. You will not be in a position to accurately evaluate if a person is a match until after you meet and spend in-person time with him or her.”
Thompson advises women to make their dates prove their trustworthiness before a first meeting.
“Control the environment so there is support around. This means going someplace where the risk is very low – a public place or somewhere roommates or friends are present.”
Meet during the day, Dr. Black advises – and always bring your cell phone.
If your date objects and insists on being alone, be suspicious. He may turn on the charm, spend hours chatting on the web or phone, and try to convince you that being alone together will be much more fun or intimate. He may even ask, “Don’t you trust me?”
“This is a means to manipulate,” Thompson says. “Two or three meetings where the risk is low will generally separate the good from the bad.”
Don’t give out personal information – your home or business address, the name of your workplace, your home/business/cell phone numbers – until you’ve had three to five in-person meetings that have gone well, Dr. Black says.
“Stay mindful that you do not know this person,” she says. “ He or she is still a stranger.”
Always remember a sexual predator’s main goal: to find an environment where he can isolate you.
“Unfortunately, a tool he uses to gain control is alcohol,” Thompson says. “I call it a tool against reluctance. If he can get one drink in you, the likelihood of a second – and more – is quite good. The more he can gain control, the greater likelihood of you being manipulated.”
A predator’s actions are always planned and seldom impulsive. If you’re attuned to verbal and nonverbal cues, you can intuitively discern that something isn’t quite right.
“Many survivors talk about having a bad feeling sometime during the date, but they denied it,” Thompson says. “Trust your instincts and reduce risk until he proves he is a good person.”
Dr. Michael Levittan, a Los Angeles psychotherapist who lectures on domestic violence and anger management, instructs women to tell a close friend about the date and her whereabouts. Avoid getting into a stranger’s car, as well as having sex on a first date.
“Caution is paramount so that you take care of yourself and have an opportunity to see whether this new person respects your limits.”
“Never, ever, sleep together on the first date,” confirms David Coleman, author of “101 Great Dates” and “Date Smart! How to Stop Revolving and Start Evolving in Relationships.”
“The quicker a man has sex with a woman, the less long-term plans he has for her. Every man knows that having sex too soon is a lack of respect and changes the relationship’s dynamics.”
Drs. Black and Levittan provide the following cues that hint at potential danger:
- Is he unwilling to talk about past relationships?
- Is he rude or overly angry with waiters or other service personnel?
- Does he interrupt you frequently?
- Does he “top” you when talking, upping his volume to be heard?
- Is he unable to maintain eye contact?
- Is he pressuring you to do something or go somewhere that makes you uncomfortable?
- Does he criticize you, demean you or give you instructions about how to conduct yourself?
- Does he make disrespectful comments about women?
- Is he easily frustrated?
- Does he refer to episodes of abuse or violence in past relationships?
- Does he have road rage?
- Does he grab your arm – or any other part of your body – without being invited to do so?
“Listen for any inconsistencies in a conversation: age, interests, profession or employment, marital status and stories about exes,” Dr. Black says. “Listen for evasiveness, vagueness or ambiguity. Be alert to details changing or being omitted. Don’t make excuses for someone if they seem to be forgetting what they say or changing what they mean.
“If, at any time, something doesn’t feel right, or you start to feel uneasy, uncomfortable or in any danger, change the situation until you feel safe, including ending the meeting,” she continues. “You are in charge of your safety. Do not second-guess yourself. Make an agreement with yourself that you will listen to – and honor – that voice or feeling inside.”