States Seek To Make It Safer To Find Love Online

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Something just didn’t seem right when Ilana Angel met her Internet date at a bar. He furtively looked around the room and immediately suggested they go someplace else in his car, leaving hers behind at the bar.

Aware of the risks of that come with looking for love online, Angel thought better of the suggestion and said no.

“People are shady,” said Angel, who writes a blog in Los Angeles about dating and being over 40. “You just have to be aware and you have to be careful.”

Amid accounts of sex offenders using matchmaking sites to find victims, lawmakers in several states are trying to pass legislation to help make online daters more aware of the potential pitfalls of the process. Bills are pending this year in Connecticut and Texas to provide users with more information to protect themselves.

Connecticut’s bill, mirroring a law in New York, requires Internet dating services to provide a safety awareness notice during registration that offers advice such as never including your last name, email address, place of work, phone numbers or identifying information in an Internet profile. Similar laws are already on the books in Florida and New Jersey.

A Pennsylvania man, Jeffrey Marsalis, was sentenced in 2009 to life in prison in Idaho for sexually assaulting a woman in 2005. He was already serving a 21-year sentence in Pennsylvania for two other sexual assault convictions. Authorities in Philadelphia portrayed Marsalis as a smooth talker who would meet women on the popular dating website, telling them he was an astronaut, doctor or a spy and then slip something into their drinks to incapacitate them.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories, not only people who had their physical safety endangered, but also financial safety,” said Connecticut state Rep. Mae Flexer, a Democrat who authored the bill. “I’ve heard from a number of people who unfortunately met someone online, they gave them too much information and were damaged financially as well.”

The Texas legislation requires online dating services to clearly disclose to customers whether they conduct criminal background checks on each member before allowing them to contact other members on the site. The same bill requires the sites to remind customers that background checks are not a perfect safety solution and they can be circumvented by criminals.

New York lawmakers are considering a similar bill that would supplement last year’s law. It would also require the companies to clearly notify users whether they conduct criminal background screenings. said Sunday that it will begin screening its users against the national sex offender registry. The announcement came after a California woman sued the site, saying she was sexually assaulted while on a second date by a man she met on She has claimed the assault could have been prevented with a proper background check.

A spokesman for said the company was already considering screening its users before the woman’s lawsuit was filed. He said the timing of the decision was accelerated by the attention brought by the suit.

Donna Rice Hughes, CEO and president of Enough is Enough, a Virginia- based nonprofit that focuses on improving Internet safety for children and families, said it makes sense for corporate matchmaking websites to proactively take steps to make their services safer. She recalled how social networking sites used by many young people convened a task force in 2008, along with state attorneys general, and came up with ways to try and block access to sexual predators.

In 2009, MySpace announced how 90,000 sex offenders had been identified and removed from the social networking site.

“A good corporate leader needs to do that,” said Rice Hughes, referring to proactive efforts to beef up safety measures. “The last thing they need for business is for somebody to get harmed by something through their site. … They should be running their database against the sex offender registries. That’s a no-brainer.”

Alex Vasquez, founder of the L.A.-based blog, said not everyone in the online dating community likes the idea of background checks.

“It’s definitely going to be a hot-button item because there’s definitely that privacy issue,” he said.

Vasquez recommends both women and men use common sense when meeting their online dates face-to-face. He said he’s had some sketchy Internet dating experiences. In one instance, a woman lied about her background and wound up being about ten years older than she had portrayed herself, living in a rundown motel and essentially on the run from an abusive husband. She was still wearing her wedding ring when she met Vasquez.

“What if the guy had come out and decided to do something bad to me?” he said. “There’s no guarantees. As convenient as online dating has become, there are still issues with safety. … People just assume that it’s safe.”

Angel, a divorced mother who sometimes goes on two or three dates each week, writes the Keeping the Faith blog at

Despite the risks of online dating, she said she has few other options to finding true love.

“Dating is disgusting. It’s disgusting and online dating is brutal,” said Angel. “But I want to have a partner. I want to have a witness to the second half of my life.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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    […] States Seek To Make It Safer To Find Love Online Lawmakers in several states are trying to pass legislation to make online daters more aware of potential pitfalls. Go to News Source […]

  • rich kurnat

    Sex offenders have as much right to be at an online dating service as everyone else. For one thing by the time a sex offender gets on the registry he has usually served his time in prison. If you don’t want him in society then don’t release him from prison. By releasing him from prison but never allowing him to transcend his past you are actually encouraging his recidivisim. If sex offenders are not entitled to the same rights as everyone else once they have served their time then they should not be expected to pay taxes to support a system that has determined it is alright to discriminate against them. No equal protection, no equal rights, should equal no equal responsability.
    Sex offender laws do not protect you and you should question the motives of anyone who claims they do. If someone wants to rape you having their name in the registry is not going to stop them, in fact it may provoke them as they internalize societies rejection, and abandon all hope of normalcy.
    Sex offenders have the lowest recidivisim rate of all crimes but these sex offender laws may change that in the long run. Personally, I think that people who meet people online to date are not too bright. Guess what stupid the sex offender knows the internet is not a good place to meet victims. If a person is on the registry then he has already been convicted of a sex crime. Since sex offenders have a low recidivisim rate you have a better chance of being raped by the person you meet online who is not on the registry. The guy who is on the registry is probably out of options just like you and is looking for love just like all the other pitiful losers who go online to look for love because everyone who knows them is’nt interested.

    • YRofTexas

      Observe the wisdom of BEANZ below. Give his/her perspective some merit & respect. Truly, what you are saying is against the very fiber of decent humanity!

    • YRofTexas

      “Pitiful Losers”?
      “go on line to look for love because everyone who knows them isn’t interested”

      Your attitude is very disrespectful of individual persons lives. There are a multitude of people who meet online that are not losers, and have very limited access to suitable interested persons. This can be due to economics, being geographically or physically trapped (such as a disability).

      Tell me this: How can persons who are home-bound, physically challenged able to meet people? Must they shrivel up and die because you consider them as unworthy to meet new people thru this type of media?

      As far as Sex Offenders:
      They can go where they please, move and start up new most anywhere (as they follow legal guidelines). If they decide to cross over the line of acceptable behavior, then the penalties of social castration is the row they must hoe. Adults, just like children, can have impaired judgement when it comes to social skills, so the monitoring is a good thing. Emotional Quotient can be low, which means their ‘common sense’ can be very limited. These internet dating sites can go beyond the sex registries; monitoring responses from other members can be useful for those looking into dating someone who is a member on the site.

      There is not excuse suitable to justify someone choosing to live as a sexual predator. PERIOD.

    • fred

      very well said…I agree 100%

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  • wolfspirit

    Women need to be able to tell what kind of man they meet. I do not think facebook is responsible.

  • wolfspirit

    Do women sue bars when they meet a bad man in them?

  • Deborah

    As a single woman it is up to me to check out the persons background. It is up to me to decided if the man I just met has an something other than meeting the love of his life. Dating sites can’t figure out if the man or woman is a con artist or sexual predator. It is up to us to find out. What if this person has never been arrested and convicted of a crime?
    I say it is entirely up to us to figure out who we go out with. I get put off by a man that insists a little too much to go out. I want several phone conversations first. If I get even the slightest bit nervous with a conversation then I simply do not meet the person. If I do meet someone and am uncomfortable and my gut feeling says leave……..I do. I am now in the age range where I am not that adorable anymore but I would rather spend the rest of my days knowing that I can make smart choices. I have met some wonderful men and had great dates with them. I have also been in serious relationships. Both serious relationships I met on line. They were wonderful men. Both of them have passed away. But to make a point I did my homework on these men. They also did their homework on me. We knew who we were going out with.

  • Beanz

    Rich you must be a rapist or worse to be spittin that nonsense. Sex offenders might have the lowest recitivism rate, but the VAST majority of studies show that perverts such as pedophiles and rapists cannot be rehabilitated. Couple that with the fact that most rapes go unprocecuted, or even worse unsolved, and thats just a dumb idea. Just because they havent gone to jail for their crimes doesnt mean theyre not still commiting them.

    • YRofTexas

      Agreed! Bravo!!

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