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This week, an article by The Guardian announced that Jason Lawrence, a father of three, had been found guilty of raping five women. Lawrence targeted his victims using the dating website Match.com.

According to the trial proceedings, Lawrence had been on the site since 2011 and had sexually attacked multiple women he met through the site, in addition to the rapes. He was also found guilty of attempted rape during the trial.

Lawrence sent messages to thousands of women on the website over the years; several women reported to Match.com about his behavior, yet site administrators told him they could ?do nothing? since he had not used the site itself to send any type of abusive messages. In this way, the website inadvertently created a window for Lawrence to continue harassing and abusing women.

Prosecutor Shaun Smith alleged that Lawrence had a Jekyll and Hyde type personality, and that he specifically targeted women who were vulnerable and lonely — such as women who had been recently widowed or divorced. These women, naturally, may have had less experience with dating websites and were potentially naive to the possibility of danger by an unvetted profile.

What This Means for the Online Dating World

Is online dating safe? While Lawrence?s actions may come as a shock to many, the reality is that typical online dating sites do very little to ensure client safety — or even to ensure that the information posted on their websites are accurate. Lawrence, for example, was still using Match.com after he married someone (who he also met on the website) — a fact he, of course, didn?t mention on his dating profile.

Of course, there are safe online dating sites out there, and online dating can be a great experience — especially for those who may not meet many new faces at work or through friends. In fact, 23% of online daters have formed a long term relationship or spouse through a website.

How to Have a Good Experience Dating Online: It IS Possible

The key to having a good online experience is choosing dating websites that do adequate background checks, and also one that checks for things like false names, identities, and criminal backgrounds that people may be trying to hide. While no amount of checking can ensure that dating will be completely safe, safer websites can provide a certain level of security that websites operating more loosely cannot.

And what should you do once you do type “yes” to a future date with someone you’ve never met before? Don’t let the butterflies in your stomach overpower common sense! Always agree to meet in a public place, at a time of day where transportation will be easy to find (a first date isn’t always the right time to ask a relative stranger to walk you to your apartment). Let a friend know where you’ll be, and ask for them to check in with you at a time you expect your date to be over.

Dating websites are not the enemy, but you need to stay safe, and only put your money into sites that care about your safety as well.