PROVO, Utah (ABC4) — A new study published by Brigham Young University researchers suggests sexual predators use dating apps as hunting grounds for vulnerable victims. 

“Violent sexual predators are using these dating apps [to hunt] for vulnerable victims,” said Julie Valentine, associate dean of the Brigham Young University College of Nursing. 

Valentine and other researchers conducted a study focusing on how many date rape victims in Utah met on a dating app and were raped during their first in-person meeting. The percentage was higher than Valentine anticipated. 

“We found that was 14% percent,” Valentine said. 

Not only is the percentage high, but the sexual assault in these cases was also found to be more violent. 

“A third of the victims are also strangled, which indicates a high degree of lethality, they have more injuries, 70% have physical or non-intergenital injuries,” Valentine said. 

She said 60% of the victims say they have a mental illness, half of the victims are college-aged, and there’s a higher rate of men being assaulted using apps. 

She said dating apps give those inclined to violence a hunting ground for assault. 

“Anyone can be who they want to be,” Valentine said. 

ABC4 talked to college students who are currently using dating apps and found that some choose to just text using the app but not go any further. 

“I’ve actually never gone on a date using a dating app. I haven’t ever felt safe enough too. I just feel like you don’t get to know the person super well,” said Daniela Garciaprada, a BYU student. 

Others said they can be a great way to meet people, as long as you take precautions. 

“I think they’re safe. It’s just how you go about it, like if you meet up in a public area or don’t tell them where you live right away,” said Maggie Chidester, another BYU student. 

But Valentine said this study shouldn’t be a reason for people to delete their dating apps or to blame victims for wanting to go out on dates. Instead, she called for change by focusing on preventing abusive behaviors. 

“We need the dating app companies to make the sites safer,” Valentine said. 

She said that includes clearly talking about sexual assault on the apps and requiring background checks for users. A recent bill proposal from our state’s legislative session would require background checks but did not pass.  

If you or someone you know needs help, call the Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1-888-421-1100.