“You can really see the differences in the level of fear going into online dating. Guys’ number one fear with online dating is turning up at their date and the girl is a bit bigger than her picture — chubby. Whereas women’s number one fear is that they’re going to get murdered.”Hampton Yount, Comedian
40 million Americans use dating apps to find a relationship. But not everyone online is looking for romance -- 10% of sex offenders use dating sites; 1 in 10 users on free dating apps are scammers; sexual assaults linked to online dating platforms have grown six-fold in the last five years
With things beginning to open up in New York, it is not surprising that love is in the open fresh air. All those online virtual relationships cultivated during quarantine are about to crystallize into face-to-face encounters. Finally!
But just how safe are these dating sites, really?
Allowing a stranger into your life online has obvious risks. On the other hand, so many times we hear about how people have found their perfect mate online and have embarked on a happily-ever-after journey driven by the wings of Eros.
But that’s not what happened in this week’s case.
Let’s meet Tina, a college student home for the summer. Tina has heard from all her pals about how well they have fared at the various online dating sites, so she decides to “put herself out there.” And that is where she met Devin.
Devin worked Tina for a while, grooming her with the “foot in the door technique.” Devin gained Tina’s trust by putting up pictures with his supposed family and friends. Devin did well for himself as an independent contractor but, as he explained to Tina, he was still in search of true love. Soon, the IMs started getting intimate. And then, they agree to exchange intimate photos.
When Tina clicked on the send icon, she felt a chill enshroud her heart. Tina clicked on the Jpeg that Devin sent her and thought she felt relief when she saw that Devin had sent her a phallic photo. They both had something on each other, right?
Wrong. Devin was on a mission. He immediately sent out a flurry of texts demanding sex. In exchange, Devin would not publish the embarrassing photos on the Internet for all the world to see.
Tina was frozen. She contacted a close friend who immediately advised Tina to inform her parents and then the police, and to not contact Devin anymore. Devin was arrested and was charged with attempted coercion in the second degree. This is the testimony from Devin’s trial.
Q. How did you meet Devin?
A. I met him on a dating app that was recommended by friends.
Q. How did it go in the beginning?
A. He was sweet. We would chat for hours about all different things: movies, TV, past relationships, family…and, then, you know, about the possibility of dating. He seemed completely normal.
Q. And did you ever date?
A. In person? No. But the conversations became more intimate.
Q. In what way?
A. Well, we wrote about what we liked, you know, sexually.
Q. Did it at any time go beyond just writing to each other about sexual topics.
A. Yes. We had talked about exchanging intimate photos – you know, like nude photos.
Q. And was that ever done?
A. Yes, at first just by Devin. I was not completely sure if I could trust him. And when I had a bunch of his pictures, I felt confident that it was okay to send him pictures of me.
Q. So what happened after you sent the pictures to him?
A. At first nothing. He just, you know, complemented me. And then he started becoming more aggressive about meeting up in person. He started sending IMs and texts and I got uncomfortable and I just wanted to end it. So I told him that I did not want to continue with our online relationship.
Q. What was Devin’s reaction to that?
A. He became angry and wrote to me that I had led him on. He then started threatening me, saying that if I did not meet up with him he was going to publish the pictures on social media and send them to my house.
Q. Did you believe that Devin actually would have done that?
A. I did. I had no doubt. I was begging him and I was actually considering complying with his demands. I didn’t know what to do, so I spoke to a friend and eventually my parents and then to the police.
Cross Examination of Tina by Devin's Lawyer
Q. Devin had sent you nude pictures taken of him before you sent your pictures to Devin, is that your testimony?
A. That is my testimony.
Q. But you never met Devin in person, right?
A. That is right. I never met Devin in person.
Q. So you could not have been sure that pictures that Devin sent you were actually of him, right?
A. I believed him.
Q. The pictures you received could have been stock photos from a porn site, right?
A. I don’t know…
Q. And then you sent actual nude pictures of you to Devin, correct?
A. I did, because I thought that I had his pictures, you know?
Q. And Devin isn’t the first boy that you sent you nude photos to, isn’t that right?
DEVIN’S LAWYER: Your Honor, I have to be permitted to ask that question….
JUDGE: Counsel, I have made by ruling. I am not going to sit here and have you lecture the courtroom during this trial. Now, I am telling you this: the objection is sustained. Your objection to my ruling is noted. Now, until we are out of the presence of the jury or until you are at the Appellate Division: I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ANOTHER WORD ABOUT MY RULING! Whether the complaining witness ever sent nude photos to anyone else is IRRELEVANT. The objection is SUSTAINED and I am ordering you to MOVE ON!
DEVIN’S LAWYER: Yes, Your Honor. Tina, Devin did not threaten you with violence, did he?
A. Not physical violence. But I felt that if I did not have sex with Devin, like he was demanding, that harm would have been done to my reputation, for sure.
Q. In fact, you never even met Devin face-to-face, right?
A. No, I did not.
Q. Thank you. Nothing further
Closing Argument by Devin's Lawyer:
Your Honor, this is nothing more than a relationship gone bad – there was no criminal act done. There has been no evidence introduced that would establish that Devin would have done anything at all – the text messages introduced into evidence are just empty threats by someone who had their heart broken. And nothing more. Devin should be found NOT GUILTY.
Tina met Devin on an online dating site, exchanged nude photographs with him, but then ended the relationship, after which Devin contacted Tina in a series of text messages and threatened to release the nude photographs if she did not have sex with him.
Those facts are uncontested.
The allegation alone are sufficient to provide reasonable cause to believe that Devin tried to compel or induce Tina to engage in conduct which Tina had a legal right to refuse from engaging in, by instilling in Tina a fear that, if the demand was not complied with, Devin would expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, that would subject her to hatred, contempt or ridicule; and to perform an act that would not in itself materially benefit Devin, but was calculated to harm Tina with respect to her reputation or personal relationships.
Devin is GUILTY of attempted coercion in the second degree.
We studied another case a while back about another kind of trap set by one Michael Piznarski. Mike and his victim dated. Mike secretly recorded the victim perform oral sex on him. After Mike and the victim broke up, Mike informed the victim that he had made the videotape. He also told her that he would upload the video to the Internet unless she had sex with him. Mike was charged with coercion in the second degree. [Here is the link to Mike’s case: https://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/appellate-division-third-department/2013/105460.html]
Victims like Tina, often get tunnel vision when they are caught in a trap like the one set by Devin and Mike. Fortunately, Tina and Mike’s ex-girlfriend had people in their lives that supported them and gave them the courage to bring those predators to justice.
Click HERE to read the full case.