How Tinder’s Anonymity Facilitates Sexual Violence: A personal account
Author’s Note: This article discusses consent and sexual abuse which may be triggering to some.
Tinder is perhaps the most notorious of the various dating apps available. Its iconic “swipe right or left” format has become a cornerstone of internet dating, and its influence on hookup culture is immeasurable. I’ve had an account since age sixteen, when my friends and I felt grown up enough to create Tinder profiles, match, talk, and occasionally go on dates with men much older than us. I was impressionable and naïve; I liked being told I was mature for my age. The men I would go on dates with would buy me cigarettes and treat me as the older version of myself I so desperately wanted to be, while also infantilizing and demeaning me. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I was being manipulated. At sixteen, I thought I was mature enough to handle it. At nineteen, I realized that I wasn’t mature enough and still am not. As Tinder is an incredibly useful tool for abusers, it can put women in incredibly dangerous situations.
A few weeks ago, I went on a date. He was older, wealthy, and a science major. He invited me to his place. I wouldn’t normally go to someone’s house on the first date, and my gut told me not to, but he invited me over under the innocent pretense of wanting me to teach him to paint. So I went, against my better instincts, sending my location to my best friend, telling her I would check-in with her an hour into the date, a futile attempt to protect myself.
The anonymity that accompanies Tinder makes it a perfect tool for men intending to harm women without consequence. That’s not to say that all men who have Tinder intend to do so; It’s a small– but significant– minority. If a man harms a woman in his friend group who’s a friend of a friend, or who frequents the same places as him, word will get out and his reputation will be ruined. Or, more accurately, his reputation will be adjusted to reflect his actions. Instead, a man may choose to harm a woman he meets on Tinder, with whom he has no mutual friends, no mutual followers, no ties whatsoever– He can do what he pleases with her, whether it’s physical or sexual violence, pressuring her to do something, or having her fulfill his needs and refusing to do the same. The victim will be left powerless in the face of the abuser, and his reputation will remain unscathed.
He gave me a glass of rosé, so sweet it was almost syrup, and the memory of it makes me feel sick. He tried to teach me a song on the piano. It’s scary how well he pulled off his role as a kind and harmless boy. I got the tune on the piano after a few tries and when he hugged me, I felt my body stiffen. It’s scarier that I saw right through his act but still couldn’t save myself. I have often found myself unable to protect myself from the person behind the act. By then, it’s almost always too late. Too many drinks have been consumed and I’ve lost my inhibitions. Or too much money has been spent on dinner and now there’s expectations stapled to the bill. Or he’s driven me home and gas is expensive, he went out of his way and he wants something in return for his troubles. Nothing is ever free.
He kissed me. I didn’t resist, I didn’t comply either. I was quiet and let him undress me, though every fiber of my being told me to take my things and run. Run out the door and down the stairs of his apartment, run down the street, keep running until I reached the bus stop and crumbled onto the curb. I could have been panting at the bus stop at one in the morning instead of crying on the street at two. Instead, he fucked me while I lay there and took it. Silent and still. I lay there and took it as I have done so many times before. I lay there and took it because I couldn’t force out a protest. Because I feared what would happen if I said no. Because of the anger that follows a “no”. Because I’ve said no before and it didn’t change anything. Because the amount of energy it would take to say no, and perhaps be forced to justify my decision, is far greater than the amount of energy it would take to just lay there and take it. I didn’t account for the amount of emotional energy I would waste trying to process this night, but at least no one would be around to see me exert that energy. Instead, I hoped that if I lay very, very still and very, very quiet, he would stop. He struck my body three times, not stopping when I flinched. It’s one thing to experiment with a partner, or a friend, or even someone you casually hooked up with but had a conversation with beforehand. It is another thing entirely to do that to someone you met four hours ago and have never discussed sexual boundaries with. My mind scrambled, trying to arrange the words “please don’t do that”, trying to force them out, but I found my vocal cords stuck together with the rosé in my throat.
I sound so terribly passive, and I feel ashamed to call myself a feminist and then act the way I do. But there’s some part of me that has been conditioned to prioritize a man’s pleasure over my well-being, and I don’t know how to escape it. It’s a continual conditioning, and most of my experiences only reinforce the belief. On the outside, I preach liberation and the condemnation of abusers. Behind closed doors, the social conditioning takes over and I can’t move. Fifteen minutes later, I dressed and walked to the door. When he told me he had fun, I said “me too”. What was I supposed to stay after that?
I never heard from him again. I didn’t want to, but the realization hit, as it often has, that he didn’t find me pretty, or smart, or interesting. To him, I was an empty object of sexual pleasure, a one-time use, disposable. If he had texted me to make plans again, perhaps I could have convinced myself that maybe he did like me, maybe I was valid in more than ways than just a purely sexual one. It’s difficult to not internalize his perception of myself as an object of sexual pleasure. It’s difficult to view myself as more than that after I’ve been treated as such by most of the men in my life.
I still can’t bring myself to label this as anything but a bad experience that I could have avoided had I found my voice in time. Like every time, I’ve convinced myself it was all my fault. Stupid, stupid girl. Going to stanger’s apartment, what did you expect? Unable to force out a no, a one syllable word, you deserved it. As I so often do, I convinced myself that this was my punishment for something terribly wrong I had done, though I didn’t know what.
I didn’t want to tell anyone the first few days afterwards. It was embarrassing. He had marked me with hickeys, and it was embarrassing to be scarred like that. Not only to be marked with purple splotches down my throat, but with another name in my list of sexual partners that shouldn’t be there, and another rock in my stomach. Friends began to ask questions. I hinted at an unpleasant situation but left it at that. It’s so difficult to tell this story when I feel like I’m not talking about myself, but about a girl I don’t know, existing far from myself. The person I think I am would never let something like this happen. She’s not that passive and naïve, she doesn’t prioritize a man’s comfort over her own. It’s embarrassing to adopt the act of a sexually liberated woman only to be reminded that you’re not the one benefiting from this act. To feel empowered as a twenty-first century woman living through fifth-wave feminism, only to be reminded of who really holds the power.
Initially, this article was supposed to be a light column about the experience of online dating, the funny anecdotes, the unlikely matches, the good dates, and the far more frequent bad ones. This article was supposed to be fun in the same way that dating is supposed to be fun, often falling short of this expectation. After this experience, I decided that I couldn’t deceive myself and others into making this a light article. Online dating can be dangerous, especially for women, because a woman’s existence inherently places her in a position of endless risk for abuse and assault. It’s something that needs to be said, and repeated, and screamed until the message sticks. I’m tired of screaming, so I’ll write instead. I’ll write the words I wish I could have said to the men who fucked me while I lay still and silent, or who continued despite my telling them that I was in pain, or who took advantage of my vulnerability while I was drunk and on the cusp of unconsciousness on someone’s bathroom floor. I’ll write the words I wish I could telepathically communicate to any person who’s been placed in a situation of abuse. I’d tell them that it’s not their fault, that they’re not alone, that this experience doesn’t define them, and that they are not an object of sexual pleasure, though I know it often feels that way. I’ll write the words I want to say to those who have never been implicated in an abusive situation, or to those who have been able to turn a blind eye towards the endless risks that women face on a daily basis. Let this be your reminder and your introduction to the endless instances of assault that women are at risk of while they are simply existing.
Centre pour les victimes d’agression sexuelle Montréal: https://www.cvasm.org/en/index
Ending Violence Association of Canada - centres, crisis lines & support lines: https://endingviolencecanada.org/sexual-assault-centres-crisis-lines-and-support-services/