Susan Deveau saw Mark Papamechail’s online dating profile on Plenty of Fish in late 2016. Scrolling through his pictures, she saw a 54-year-old man, balding and broad, dressed in a T-shirt. Papamechail lived near her home in a suburb of Boston and, like Deveau, was divorced. His dating app profile said he wanted “to find someone to marry.”
Deveau had used dating websites for years, but she told her adult daughter the men she met were “dorky.” She joked about how she could get “catfished” if a date looked nothing like his picture. Still Deveau, 53, wanted to grow old with someone. The two were — in the popular dating platform’s jargon — “matched.”
A background check would have revealed that Papamechail was a three-time convicted rapist. It would have shown that Massachusetts designated him a dangerous registered sex offender. So how did Plenty of Fish allow such a man to use its service?
Papamechail didn’t scare Deveau at first. They chatted online and eventually arranged a date. They went on a second date and a third. But months after their Plenty of Fish match, Deveau became the second woman to report to police that Papamechail raped her after they had met through a dating app.
Plenty of Fish is among 45 online dating brands now owned by Match Group, the Dallas-based corporation that has revenues of $1.7 billion and that dominates the industry in the US. Its top dating app, Tinder, has 5.2 million subscribers, surpassing such popular rivals as Bumble.
For nearly a decade, its flagship website, Match, has issued statements and signed agreements promising to protect users from sexual predators. The site has a policy of screening customers against government sex offender registries. But over this same period, as Match evolved into the publicly traded Match Group and bought its competitors, the company hasn’t extended this practice across its platforms — including Plenty of Fish, its second most popular dating app. The lack of a uniform policy allows convicted and accused perpetrators to access Match Group apps and leaves users vulnerable to sexual assault, a 16-month investigation by Columbia Journalism Investigations found.
Match first agreed to screen for registered sex offenders in 2011 after Carole Markin made it her mission to improve its safety practices. The site had connected her with a six-time convicted rapist who, she told police, had raped her on their second date. Markin sued the company to push for regular registry checks. The Harvard-educated entertainment executive held a high-profile press conference to unveil her lawsuit. Within months, Match’s lawyers told the judge that “a screening process has been initiated,” records show. After the settlement, the company’s attorneys declared the site was “checking subscribers against state and national sex offender registries.”
The next year, Match made similar assurances to then–California Attorney General Kamala Harris. In a 2012 agreement on best industry practices between the attorney general’s office and the dating site, among others, the company again agreed to “identify sexual predators” and examine sex offender registries. It pledged to go further and respond to users’ rape complaints with an additional safety tool: “a rapid abuse reporting system.”
Today, Match Group checks the information of its paid subscribers on Match against state sex offender lists. But it doesn’t take that step on Tinder, OkCupid or Plenty of Fish — or any of its free platforms.
The company says that because they do not collect enough data they cannot conduct background checks.
Source: Buzzfeed News