The nurse from Renton found dismembered in a recycling bin met the suspect on an online dating website. But is online dating riskier than any other options?
There’s a suddenly uncomfortable joke about Internet dating that has been around for several years. Men, the saying goes, are most worried that their date will be fat. Women are most worried that their date will be a serial killer.
After a Renton nurse and mother of three was found dismembered in a recycling bin after going out with a man she met online, that joke is no longer very funny.
From the moment the gory details of Ingrid Lyne’s death became public, headlines and social media posts made note of the fact that she met the suspect, John Robert Charlton, online. He was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder.
Dating experts and people who work with domestic-violence victims shared their tips.
• Check social media. Facebook and Twitter can confirm details a person has already shared; LinkedIn gives a person’s job history. No online presence can be a red flag.
• Learn how to reverse Google Image Search to confirm that the account isn’t fake and that the photo isn’t being used by different people.
• The Washington State Patrol Identification and Criminal History Section (WASIS) provides criminal history conviction records for a $12 fee online. Daters can also use private sites like Intelius, which will run a complete background check for $49.95.
• Tell friends where you are going and who you are going with.
• Meet in a public place.
• When possible, get the full name of the person you are dating and find out their workplace.
• Have frank conversations early to establish rules of consent around intimacy.
• Be aware of early signs often exhibited by domestic abusers: possessiveness, entitlement and controlling behavior.
Even though it’s become more prevalent with the advent of such sites as Tinder, OKCupid and Bumble, online dating still has the specter of a dangerous boogeyman hanging over it.
Those old standbys — work, family and friends — have fallen by the wayside; a study by University of Chicago professor of psychology John Cacioppo found that more than 34 percent of couples who married between 2005 and 2012 met online.
A Pew Research poll found that 59 percent of Americans had a positive attitude about online dating, and 15 percent have dated using apps or websites, yet there are still lingering fears about the safety of meeting strangers online. But, says dating coach and professional matchmaker Renessa Rios, online dating poses no more risk than meeting someone at a bar.
“Any type of dating, we are meeting strangers, period,” Rios said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re online dating, bar dating, speed dating, you are meeting strangers, period!”
Cindy Southworth, the Executive Vice President and founder of the Safety Net Technology Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, has worked with Facebook to develop an online safety and privacy guidebook for domestic-violence survivors.
“The biggest risk factor in this case is not that it is online. It is that she is female,” Southworth said. “An average of three women are killed in the U.S. every day by an intimate partner.”
Domestic violence can take place in both brand-new and long-lasting relationships. But for some people, the details of Lyne’s slaying could raise alarm about dating, and especially online.
Southworth noted that “there’s always been concerns about new technology.”
But she cautions against victim blaming. “My experience is when a tragedy occurs, people ask ‘How can I make sure I don’t become that victim? … Honestly, that’s the wrong question,” she said. “There is nothing probably that she could have done differently,” she said, pointing to Charlton and Lyne’s weekslong courtship, and underscoring there’s no way to know if someone has homicidal tendencies.
But the Internet has caused the sheer volume of first dates to increase; some people go on two to three dates a week, giving the impression that there are more creeps, which is only exacerbated by the right-swipe culture of Tinder.
“That whole idea of shopping for humans means you treat people not like humans, but like things,” said Seattle’s Susie Lee, the founder of the female-friendly dating app, Siren.
With this accelerated pace, Lee said women need to be better prepared to have conversations around consent.
“People are not comfortable saying what their expectations are the first time they meet,” she explained. “Very few people will go on a date, and say ‘This is how I show consent.’ ”
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One of the reasons online dating carries a negative connotation is that many of its users lie about their physical attributes. But by and large, while online daters do tell lies, studies show that they mostly lie about the small stuff. Researchers at Cornell University and Michigan State conducted a study of online daters in New York City which found people mostly lied about their height, weight and age. The outliers — people who greatly exaggerated their height or weight, lying by 35 pounds, for instance — are partly to blame for the perception that online daters are bigger fibbers. The study noted that “these extreme lies are more likely to be circulated.”
An article in Psychology Today noted that if a person engaged in a particular behavior online, they are “more likely to be dishonest offline,” as well.
An in-person meeting might reveal more about a person’s physical appearance, but it won’t reveal whether they are a serial killer. Just ask the women who encountered Ted Bundy, a notorious serial killer.
Domestic-violence and dating experts both agree that there is more information available about a person than ever before. Armed with a photo and tech-savvy skills, daters can perform a reverse Google Image search to verify someone’s identity to avoid being “catfished,” tricked by someone posing as someone else. Photos often lead to social media sites or to other dating sites. LinkedIn, says Rios, is a good way to vet people; jumping from job to job might be a red flag.
Dana Lockhart is the program manager for the Seattle Police Department’s Victim Support Team, which works with domestic-violence victims and their families. She pointed out that there are a myriad public record search tools that might reveal someone’s marriage and divorce records, as well as some criminal court records.
“I keep using the word ‘empowerment,’ but I think that’s really an important word to use,” she said. “Because the more information someone gets about what they are walking into, eyes wide open, then the safer they’ll be, right?”
But, Lockhart cautioned, “No one can guarantee any situation is going to be safe.”
Of course, such readily available information can be a double-edged sword. Those very same tools can enable stalkers. In 2013, Mary Kay Beckman sued Match.com for failing to protect her from a man whom she dated a week, and then months later, trapped her at home and stabbed her repeatedly. While her assailant went to jail, the case was dismissed; websites are not liable for the content created by their users.
People who are dating in 2016 have two choices, Lee said: “You can decide the world is too scary and never go out,” or, take precautions.
But there’s a deeper point to take from Lyne’s tragic death. Instead of asking what went wrong, Southworth said, “We should be shifting the dialogue to, ‘How do we create a world where there is no violence against women?’”