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Online dating

Online dating is a popular way of finding a romantic, sexual or social partner.

Whether you’re interested in a relationship or a casual hook-up, chatting online can be a fun and positive way to connect with someone new – but it’s important to be aware of the risks.
 
Start by choosing a dating app or service that’s right for you and use our tips to help keep yourself safe.

On this page:

What are the benefits and risks of online dating?

Benefits

People meet online and form relationships every day – while socialising, learning, working and being entertained. But it’s estimated more than 3 million Australians specifically use online dating apps and sites to find love, intimacy and sexual pleasure.
 
Being able to create a personal profile, specify your preferences and interests, and connect with a wide variety of people can give you a sense of control over your dating life and improve your dating opportunities. It can be very useful if you find it hard to meet people, for example, because of where you live, accessibility issues or caring responsibilities.
 
You can also tailor your online dating to suit your needs. 

There are lots of choices based on the type of relationship you want, for example, whether it’s for the long term or a casual hook up, one partner or multiple partners. There are even apps and sites for special interests, like fetishes and sexual fantasies.
 
You can also pick dating platforms that are designed for your sexuality and gender identity and some apps allow you to explore these aspects of yourself more freely than others. 

Risks

While there are many potential benefits to online dating, there are some risks. Online dating requires you to take some chances on other people and share personal information about yourself, and this might put your safety, privacy and security at risk.

Knowing about the risks and some of the warning signs can help you recognise and avoid problems.

A study in 2022 found nearly three-quarters (72.3%) of Australians using dating apps had experienced online sexual harassment, aggression or violence by someone they had met through an online dating platform in the last five years. This included:

  • being continually contacted by someone after they told them they were not interested (47.3%)
  • being sent an unwanted sexually explicit message (47.2%) 
  • being pressured to send sexual messages (38.4%) and send sexual images or videos of themselves (37.8%) 
  • being pressured to meet someone in person when they did not want to (34.5%)
  • being threatened (18.9%)
  • having images or videos taken of them without their consent (12.7%). 

Over a third of the people surveyed (34.0%) had experienced sexual harassment, aggression and violence in person by someone they had met through an online dating platform.

Online abuse is closely linked to patterns of offline abuse. The same groups of people who experience higher rates of discrimination offline also deal with higher rates of abuse when they are dating online. This includes women, LGBTIQ+ individuals, people with disability, culturally and linguistically diverse people, young people and new daters.

People dealing with family, domestic or sexual violence or adult cyber abuse are also more likely to experience online abuse on dating apps and it’s important to watch out for patterns of controlling and manipulative behaviour within a relationship – this is called ‘coercive control’.

Research shows that sexual predators use dating apps to meet people so they can get access to their children and abuse them.

A study done in 2022 revealed that 12.4% of the people who were surveyed had been asked to help with the sexual exploitation of their own children or children in their care. Some were asked for sexual information about children or for sexual images or videos of children. Others were asked to set up a meeting with a child or to have a child perform sex acts over a live video chat.

Any sexual activity between a child and an adult is child sexual abuse. Sexual activity may be sexual intercourse, sexual touching or sexual acts that happen in person or online. It may involve coercion, force or implied force. Online child sexual abuse is any form of sexual abuse of a child under 18 that has a link to the online environment.

Find out more about child sexual abuse online.

This is when someone shares or threatens to share an intimate image or video of you without your consent. If they do it to blackmail you, it’s called sexual extortion or ‘sextortion’.

This is when someone might ‘catfish’ you by using a fake profile to trick and control you. They may manipulate you into giving them money, gifts, personal details (so they can steal from you) or intimate images or videos (so they can blackmail you).

This is when someone continuously contacts or tracks you online in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, worried or threatened. Read more about how to recognise and deal with cyberstalking.

This is when someone disrespects you and/or pushes your boundaries – pressuring you to do things you don’t want to do or acting without your permission. Read more about consent.

Choosing an online dating platform

Protecting your online safety (and the safety of any children in your life) begins with choosing the right online dating platform.

You may like to start by talking to your friends who are using dating apps or reading online reviews to find out more. Then you can explore the apps that suit your own circumstances, including your dating interests, personal preferences and safety needs. For example, you may want an app with extra privacy and security features, especially if you have experienced domestic violence or sexual violence, or you’re more at risk of adult cyber abuse because you have experienced discrimination or you have a high-profile job.

10 ways to check the safety of a dating app

Take the time to check out the platform’s features before you download an app or sign up.
 
1. Can you control who sees your profile? Many dating apps give you the option to select a private or incognito profile, so you can hide information from other people until you are ready to share it. 

2. Can you control who contacts you? Some dating platforms allow you to send private messages to anyone on their platform. Others only let you make contact once you’ve both given permission – often by swiping right on the profile of the person they like. Some dating apps empower women and non-binary people to make the first move and control who can contact them. 

3. Can you hide your location? Many apps use your location to show you the profiles of people nearby. You may want to hide your location or only show an approximate location to protect your privacy and security.

4. Does the app have a clear way to report abuse or block someone? Check that your dating app or service has a straight-forward process to report, block or take action against someone if you need to. 

5. Does the app include photo or identity verification? Some apps ask users to prove their profile pictures are legitimate by matching them with live camera images from a mobile phone or device. You may also be asked to verify your account using identity documents, such as your driver license or passport.  It’s important to remember this does not mean that their identity has been verified, only that the photo matches the user.

6. Does the app provide viewer warnings? Some apps use algorithms or content detection tools to find nude content or notify you that they’re ‘not safe for work’ (NSFW), so you can choose whether you want to see the images in a direct message.  

7. Can you unmatch with someone? Check to see if you can easily unmatch or stop contact with someone you no longer wish to connect with.

8. Are there any other protective features available? Some apps have extra features to protect you, like in-app phone call and video call options so you can chat without revealing your personal phone number or messaging details. Others have features that detect and warn you about abusive messages, or suggest that the person stops to think before sending an abusive message.
 
9. Do you have to pay for extras? Many dating platforms offer a free version when you sign up with an option for additional features if you pay for a subscription. These features might give you more privacy, let you change how often your profile is shown or require someone to be matched with you before seeing your profile.

10. Do the community guidelines and other policies support safety, privacy and security? Reading the community guidelines and terms of use will help you learn what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. Also check the privacy policy to see how it protects your data and whether it can be sold or shared with advertisers.

Find out more about the safety and privacy features on different dating apps in The eSafety Guide.

Setting up a dating profile for safety

Minimise the amount of personal information you provide on your dating profile

This includes your full name, address, work, location and information about any children in your life. Some apps give you the option to just use your first name, or choose a nickname to protect your privacy.

Be careful about which images you share on your dating profile

Avoid using pictures from your social media profiles or where there’s other information about you online, to limit what people on the dating app can find out about you, such as if they do a reverse image search. 

Be careful about sharing information about the children in your life 

Sharing images or videos of your children on your dating profile might attract predators who sexually abuse or exploit children. It’s best to avoid sharing these images or videos, even if you appear in them, to protect the privacy and safety of your children.

Don’t link your dating apps to your social media profiles 

Linking to your social media accounts gives people access to more personal information about you and your life, which they could use to catfish, scam or stalk you.

Adjust privacy settings to suit your situation

You’re in control of who can see your profile and other personal information like your location. You might choose to set up a private profile, so you can match with people before you share information about yourself. 

Set up multi-factor authentication 

Multi-factor authentication (also known as two-factor authentication) will help to keep your account secure and minimise the risk of being hacked. Always use unique and strong passwords on your dating apps and services. Learn more about how to protect your personal information.

Getting to know someone online

It’s important to remember that online dating doesn’t define your worth as a person. 

The pressure to ‘match’ with someone can make you feel stressed and anxious, or lose track of how much time you’re spending online, or lead you to put up with bad behaviour from others just so you don’t feel left out or alone. Taking regular breaks from dating apps and sites may help you to maintain your wellbeing. You should also:

Remember it’s always OK to say no

You don’t have to start chatting with someone or keep in contact just because you have been matched. Also, you don’t have to agree to anything that you’re unsure about, or that makes you feel uncomfortable or disrespected. It is always your decision. If it doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts. 

Watch out for suspicious profiles and behaviour

Not everyone who is dating online has good intentions and it's important to look out for suspicious profiles or behaviour. Check if they have verified their images or identity, if that’s an option. You can also try an image search, to make sure their profile picture is not of someone else. If anything doesn’t seem right, find out how to collect evidence and report someone

Keep the conversation on the app

Online safety features can only protect you while you’re using the app. Moving your conversations to online messaging or giving someone your phone number makes it harder to break contact if you’re no longer interested or comfortable. 

Set your boundaries around sharing and receiving sexually explicit images and videos

Sharing nudes or getting sexual online can be a fun way for adults to express themselves, build intimacy and get to know each other – but only if they agree about how and when it happens. Take a look at our advice on sexting and sending nudes and consent to help you decide what you’re comfortable with sharing and receiving and what discussions you want to have with someone beforehand. It’s also important to know what to do if someone with bad intentions uses your intimate photo or video to threaten or blackmail you. Find out more about image-based abuse, including ‘revenge porn’ and ‘sextortion’.

Before meeting in person

Meeting in person can help you decide whether you want to progress your relationship.

When you’re ready to catch up in person, there are steps you can take to make it safer.

Screenshot or take a photo of the person’s profile before you meet them

It’s a good idea to record their profile and any messages you have shared with each other. Usually the worst outcome is a bad date, but in some cases, people have been sexually or physically assaulted when they meet in person.

Taking screenshots or photos may allow you to report the other person even if they have unmatched with you or blocked you. Find out more about how to take screenshots and collect evidence.

Tell someone where you’re going

If possible, let a friend or someone in your family know your plans, such as where you’re going and when. You can even share your location with them using the settings on your phone or via an app, so they can check in and make sure you get home safely.

Trust your instincts

It’s normal to be swayed by love, lust, loneliness (or simply the excitement of dating), but try to listen to your instincts too. If you feel uneasy about someone or they’ve asked for things online that make you feel uncomfortable, don’t meet up with them. You could sense check the situation with a friend or trusted person, if you’re unsure. 

Remember, if you do meet up with someone and they do something to hurt you, it’s not your fault.

Red flags to look out for

Anyone can experience abuse when they’re online dating and it’s important to look out for the ‘red flags’ or warning signs.  

They are disrespectful

This might include asking rude or intrusive questions or making unpleasant comments, especially about your gender, sexual preference, race, disability or any part of who you are. It can be a sign they are likely to become abusive.

Their profile doesn’t match how they act or sound, or their camera ‘doesn’t work’

This could be a sign they’re an online scammer known as a ‘catfish’ who’s using a fake profile. They pretend to be romantically interested in you and then manipulate you into loaning or giving them money, gifts or personal details. Or they blackmail you over nude or intimate images or videos, which is called sexual extortion or ‘sextortion’. They usually give you excuses or refuse to video chat or meet in person, or claim to work overseas, because they want to hide their true identity or motives. Read Scamwatch’s advice on romance scams.

They pressure you to move the conversation from a dating app to a messaging service very quickly

If you move to an online messaging or social media service you won’t be protected by safety features on the dating app. The other person may get access to your phone number, location, friends and wider network, as well as a lot of other personal information about you. If the person's intentions are to scam you, this information could be used to blackmail you after getting you to participate in a sexual video chat. See sextortion.

They pressure you to send nudes or get sexual in a video chat

Constant pressure to share nude content is a sign that someone may have bad intentions. No one has the right to share or threaten to share your intimate image or video with other people, without your consent in any circumstances. This is called image-based abuse or ‘revenge porn’ and it’s illegal. You can report it to eSafety so we can help remove the image or video or stop the threats. If they try to blackmail you, it’s called sexual extortion or ‘sextortion’ – you can follow eSafety’s steps to get help.

They pressure you to meet up in person, in a way that feels too quick or not right

You only need to meet face to face if and when you’re ready, and in way that feels safe and comfortable to you. Find out what to do before meeting someone in person.

They ‘love bomb’ you

This is when someone is overly complimentary, shows you a lot of attention and becomes romantic too quickly. This can be a sign of manipulative behaviour or coercive control, or they may be trying to lure you into a romance scam to steal your money or identity.

They try to manipulate you 

Types of manipulation might include ‘gaslighting’ (when someone makes you question what you think or know), ‘ghostlighting (when someone stops communicating with you for no reason and then suddenly reconnects again – denying they cut contact in the first place) and ‘mosting’ (when someone intentionally leads you on, and then disappears without explanation).

They ask for detailed personal information 

They might make it sound like a natural conversation, but watch out if they want to know private details like your birth date, maiden name, workplace or information about members of your family. They may be trying to put the details together so they can steal your money or identity. Or they could affect your privacy and security by sharing the information online (this is known as ‘doxing’). Find out how to protect your personally identifiable information and avoid online scams.

They keep contacting you even when you make it clear you’re not interested

This type of harassment can develop into cyberstalking, which is when someone continuously tracks you online in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, worried or threatened. Read more about how to recognise and deal with cyberstalking.

They want to talk about your children

Online dating apps are sometimes used to get access to children and harm them. Do not:

  • share information about any children in your care
  • let the other person contact any children in your care
  • meet the other person while you have any children with you. 

If anyone asks for sexual images or videos of children, or for children to perform sex acts online, report them to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation.

Online ‘grooming’ behaviours

If you’re under 18, you might meet someone who may want to harm you. At first, they could seem very nice and pay you a lot of attention, like asking you lots of details about yourself, giving you compliments or asking for regular photos of you. Then they ask you for sexual images or information you feel uncomfortable sharing. To find out more about grooming, go to our Young People page on unsafe and unwanted contact. You can also find out more about child sexual abuse online.

What to do if you're abused while online dating

Being abused online is never your fault. There is help available and you should contact the police immediately if your personal safety is at risk or a crime has been committed.

You have the right to be treated with respect and be safe when you’re meeting people online and there is help available when you need it. Start by talking to a friend, support service or someone you trust and then follow these steps.


  1. Collect evidence

    Collect information about what has happened and where. You will need this to make a report to the online dating platform, eSafety or the police. Find out more about how to collect evidence.


  2. Report harmful content

    • Report abusive profiles or messages to the online dating platform through their app or website. If the platform does not remove it and the content is seriously harming you, report it to eSafety. Find out more about adult cyber abuse
    • For cases of image-based abuse, when someone shares a nude or intimate image or video of you without your consent (or threatens to share it), report it to eSafety immediately. If you’re being blackmailed over a nude or intimate image or video of you, stop all contact and don’t pay the blackmailer or give them any money or intimate content. Follow our advice on how to deal with sextortion.

  3. Stop further contact

    Tighten security and privacy settings using in-app functions to ignore, hide or mute the other person’s posts or comments. Find out how to update settings for different apps in The eSafety Guide. After collecting evidence and making a report, you can also block them (but if the abuse is part of a family, domestic or sexual violence situation or involves coercive control, it’s important to make an online safety plan before reporting and blocking).


  4. Get more help and support

    Experiencing online abuse while dating can be very unsettling and upsetting. Find counselling and support that is right for you.

Stay safe

If you are in Australia and feeling unsafe right now, call the police on Triple Zero (000) or contact 1800RESPECT or another specialist counselling or support service. Remember your safety is important. If an abusive person learns that you are seeking resources and information, their abusive behaviour may get worse. Learn more and connect with support.

Find out more about online dating for young people and LGBTIQ+ people.

Last updated: 15/02/2024