Anchorage sexual assault case highlights dangers of online dating
Before Jim Persey, accused of sexually assaulting 10 women, was arrested a year ago, Anchorage police say he was on MeetMe, an online dating app, talking to a woman who later turned him into police for sexual assault.
Charging documents show their offline relationship began with consensual sex, but then Persey’s behavior turned violent. The woman told the Anchorage Police Department Persey slapped her, choked her and forced her to have sex with him again, among other offenses.
Police say he met at least two of his alleged victims online. Now, the 19-year-old is charged with 24 counts of sexual assault, 13 of which are for first-degree sexual assault. He was arraigned Friday.
Meeting people online is becoming the new normal, says Keeley Olson with Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), a channel of support for those who’ve been sexually assaulted. But, Olson notes, that doesn’t mean dating apps are 100 percent safe.
“Similar to not advising that someone meet someone at a bar and go home with them, it might be not advisable to meet someone on a hookup app and not know anything about them,” said Olson.
She says predators change their tactics to adjust to the times and technology, which includes targeting victims using dating apps or other social media accounts.
“If the app makes it easier for someone to groom someone into believing that they’re someone else or that they have different intentions, yes, that is very risky,” she said. “But perpetrators of sexual assault use whatever means they can.”
Some of Persey’s alleged victims, who ranged in age from 15 to 20 years old, were in the same peer group as the students Antionette Street works with at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She says campus orientation doesn’t directly address the dangers of dating apps or online dating, but maybe it should. The UAA senior, along with a number of her friends, have profiles on dating websites.
“I haven’t met anybody offline because I just haven’t felt comfortable,” said Street. “But my friends and I are pretty technologically savvy enough that we’re not just meeting with somebody offline without doing some kind of search or whatever into it.”
She says if and when her friends take their dates offline from the digital space, there’s always a safety plan in place.
“If somebody was like, ‘Yea, there’s a guy I met. I’m gonna meet with him,’ I would be like, ‘Well here’s some protocol for you: text me about an hour in or whatever, just let me know if everything’s going OK for you,'” she noted.
Dating online allows her peers to perhaps meet someone off-campus with similar interests, “but if that person is just lying to get a date or just to take advantage of you that’s a real concern,” Street says.
And in light of Percey’s alleged victims, she says, that concern has the potential to turn into a criminal act.
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