JOHANNESBURG — The number of kidnappings linked to popular gay hookup site Grindr are surging in South Africa.
Queer sex workers are the ones who are particularly vulnerable to these kidnappings. They are often robbed and attacked by people who pose as potential clients, but do not report the crimes because they are afraid law enforcement will ridicule them. Queer sex workers who are targeted on Grindr do not report their cases for the same reason.
One such victim is Jake.
He told Exit, an LGBTQ+ and intersex newspaper, that he was held hostage for six hours and was only released after his kidnappers extorted $600 from him and his family.
According to Jake, which is not his real name, a man on Grindr who posed as a potential client refused to send his picture because he said he had a wife and children. Jake agreed to meet him at his home and upon his arrival, four more men arrived and then then threatened to kill him if he didn’t give him the money.
Jake managed to gather the funds, and was let go unharmed.
“We continue to learn about the worrying trend in kidnappings that have been emanating from Grindr connections in areas around Gauteng province. We view this as a form of conversion in itself,” said Access Chapter 2, a South Africa LGBTQ+ and intersex rights organization. “Queer people cannot continue to be victimized for seeking and accessing their erotic justice while law enforcement is not reactive. At Access Chapter 2 we support everyone’s right to freely engage, interact and make meaningful connections online, without fear.”
“We will continue to monitor this trend as we engage with survivors and law enforcement to access justice for those dehumanized and victimized,” added Access Chapter 2. “We urge the community to exercise more precaution in screening connections that they may want to meet in person. Remember if you notice anything suspicious report to Grindr and block the questionable profile.”
A Grindr spokesperson on Monday told the Washington Blade the site “takes the privacy and safety of our users extremely seriously.”
“Grindr publishes a Holistic Security Guide and Safety Tips available from within the Grindr App and on Grindr’s public website, and we encourage users to be careful when interacting with people they do not know,” said the spokesperson. “We encourage our users to report improper or illegal behavior either within the app or directly via email to [email protected], and to report criminal allegations to local authorities and, in these cases, we work with law enforcement as appropriate.”
Grindr has also shared a safety message with its South Africa users.
“Grindr wants to ensure all dating app users can maintain their personal safety, both online and off,” reads the message.
Grindr also advises users to take these precautions to protect themselves.
• Do A Background Check on Your Date: If you’re talking to someone on Grindr and you decide to meet in real life, it’s best to check them out via people who may know them or search for them on Google or social media.
• Meet First in A Safe Public Space: When meeting for the first time with people you don’t know, it’s best to meet in a public place. It’s important to meet somewhere LGBTIQ+ friendly, or at least not known to be “unfriendly.”
• Let A Friend Know Where You’re Meeting: It’s always a good idea to have people know where you’ve gone. It is also best to have an emergency plan. For example, have a friend come meet you if you don’t call them after a certain period. Also, when you meet someone for the first time, try not to carry too many personal items such as credit cards or cash. There are some useful applications that help you track your steps for your personal safety such as “Trusted Contacts” and “My Family Tracker.”
• Clear Phone When Meeting Strangers: When you go to meet a date from the app, clear any sexual conversations, images, and videos. Don’t save contact names in your phone that contain sexual identifications such as Top/Bottom/Hornet/Grindr or any other sexual description.
• Avoid Excessive Alcohol and Drug Use: If you go on a date with someone you don’t know well, avoid drinking too much alcohol or using drugs. Don’t agree to take any unknown drinks or substances. Drinking and using drugs may decrease your ability to identify a situation as potentially dangerous.
• If You Get Arrested: If you should get into a situation where you are arrested, do not confess or admit to anything. Even if they have proof, stay silent. Find out about organizations or groups in your area that provide direct legal services like an LGBTIQ+ organization or a more general human rights organization.
Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.
Michael K. Lavers contributed to this article.