POLICE are dealing with a growing number of sexual assaults linked to people meeting online, according to the country’s most senior officer.
Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said his force was now dealing with cases “on a weekly basis” where a relationship which began in “virtual space” had “quickly deteriorated” when the couple met in person.
The charity Rape Crisis Scotland said the issue of predatory men using online dating sites to meet and then attack women was a growing problem.
Sir Stephen told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority said: “I have to say that, on a weekly basis now, we are dealing with sexual assaults that are directly related to people who met in virtual space and may or may not have presented themselves truthfully to one another.
“They take the step of meeting in reality, where it quickly deteriorates into sexual assault: we have an offender and we have a victim. Sometimes, they haven’t presented themselves honestly; sometimes they have and there are simply different expectations once they have met in person.”
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Sir Stephen said it was important to continue to raise awareness of the dangers of putting too much personal information online.
Figures released earlier this week showed a 22 per cent rise over a year in the number of people convicted of sexual crimes, including a 15 per cent increase in sexual assaults.
There were 1,053 people convicted of sex crimes in 2013/14, compared to 864 the previous year. The number of those convicted of sexual assault rose from 204 to 235.
However, at least some of the increase is believed to be due to the reporting of historical offences in the wake of scandals such as the Jimmy Savile case.
Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, said an increasing number of women were reporting rape and sexual assault after starting a relationship online.
She said: “Our experience is that this is a growing problem. There is an increasing number of predatory men using online dating websites to target women for sexual assault or rape. The police are absolutely right to raise it as an issue.
“Men can present themselves in a very different way when online. There’s the old stereotype that a rapist is someone waiting to jump out from the bushes but, increasingly, predatory men are using different methods, such as online dating websites.”
Asked if she would support criminal record checks for those using dating sites, she said: “There’s more that can be done and that’s something that’s worth looking at.
“At the very least, these websites have a responsibility to try and ensure as far as possible the safety of women who meet men through their sites.”
She said some of the attacks reported to the charity had taken place after the couple had struck up an offline relationship over a period of weeks, but said in other cases the situation had “turned nasty straightaway”.
Earlier this week, The Scotsman revealed there have been 15 applications for information in the first three weeks of a new domestic abuse disclosure scheme which allows women to check up on violent partners.
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