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Cops caution online cruisers

Hookup site reps say police presentation alarmist

Hooking up with hotties you’ve met online? Go with your gut when it comes to safety, says Det Sgt Kim Scanlan of the Toronto police sex crimes unit.

“Let other people know where you are going,” said Scanlan at a town hall meeting on personal safety copresented by the police’s LGBT Community Consultative Committee (CCC). “Look for an escape route once you are there. Know the other person as best as you can. And go with your instincts.”

Most of Scanlan’s talk was more relevant to meeting online for the purposes of dating rather than sex, and included advice such as meet in a public place and don’t take valuables along. She also advised that cruisers attempt to confirm info they’ve been given about a person they’ve met online, while simultaneously advising that they protect their own personal information.

According to Const Tom Decker, the police’s LGBT liason officer, the topic for the forum was chosen because community service providers represented on the CCC — which includes the AIDS Committee of Toronto and the 519 Community Centre — reported it was an issue that needed to be addressed.

“Crimes that occur [during online hookups] are too often underreported because of feelings of shame,” says Decker, adding that some men are under the false impression that police will not take the crime seriously if it happens during a sexual encounter.

“From a police perspective, what two consulting adults do in private is not an issue,” he says. “But if a robbery — or worse — occurs, the crime should be reported so it can be stopped.”

At the event Scanlan listed robbery, assault, identity theft, harassment, child exploitation and murder as crimes associated with meeting people via the internet. She pointed to the ongoing case of so-called “Craigslist killer,” Philip Markoff, a Boston man who allegedly lured his female victims with a fake ad on Craigslist.

When asked if the presentation was alarmist Decker says the intention was not to scare people.

“The message is: If you choose to do this, find a date online, there may be inherent dangers,” he says. “The point was to give people advice on how to do it safely.”

But those working at websites catering to men looking to hook up for sex say that while the cops’ advice may be prudent, the presentation didn’t address reality.

“The police presented this information in a way that was very expected,” says Liam O’Reilly, marketing manager for hookup phone line Cruiseline and website Squirt.org, both operated by Pink Triangle Press (PTP, which also operates Xtra). “This was a very conservative and safe way of talking about safety.”

O’Reilly, who attended the May 4 event, noted that Squirt.org offers tips for staying safe while cruising — and that many of them match up with what Scanlon had to say.

The difference, O’Reilly says, is perspective.

“Our perspective is the more information you have, the safer you will be. The police perspective is to talk about the worst-case scenario,” he says.

Personal safety is a big topic of discussion among staff at Massachusetts-based Manhunt.net, says co-owner Jonathan Crutchley, noting its site also offers its members safety tips.

While he says he’s aware of some criminal acts associated with men meeting on Manhunt, Crutchley says it’s a rare occurence.

“Is hooking up online 100 percent safe? No. But everything is relative. Is it any less safe than going home with a stranger from a bar? No. And it can certainly be more dangerous if you have been drinking or using party drugs.”

While there have been instances when police have come to Manhunt with subpoenas or court orders seeking information Crutchley says it’s infrequent and he hasn’t seen any recent increases.

“We are in 100 countries with two million users and last year there were 24 official police requests for information. This year, so far, there have been nine,” says Crutchley. “Is that more than in the past? No. Is it less? No. But sometimes stuff happens.

“If you want to prevent crime, listen to the police. But if you want to get laid, you are going to take some risks.”