Summit County Sheriff’s Office investigates assault linked to dating website
July 7, 2016
The Summit County Sheriff's Office is investigating a woman's claims that she was sexually assaulted by a man she met on an online dating website for people over 50 years old.
Last month while deputies were investigating a burglary at a Summit County home, a woman disclosed that she was sexually assaulted two months earlier. The woman was described as being in her early 60s.
She told detectives she had been visiting dating websites and applications such as Tinder and OurTime.com. when she met a man and agreed to meet him at a coffee shop in Kimball Junction.
The suspect reportedly offered to take the woman on a drive after the coffee shop became crowded and noisy. She said he drove her to a trailhead parking lot somewhere along Interstate 80 east of Parley's Canyon. According to the Sheriff's Office, the man forced the woman to perform sexual acts while they were parked. His vehicle was described as a newer model, white Chevrolet.
Detective Kacey Bates said investigators were able to subpoena the dating website to access the woman's account and her conversations with the suspect. Bates said he is from the Salt Lake area.
"The way we were able to identify him as the possible party of interest is that there were some things that happened that were substantiated by the website, such as conversations between them," Bates said. "They also met at a local business and we were able to locate video of them there during their meeting."
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However, investigators have been unable to locate and speak with the suspect. No charges have been filed.
"Obviously he has rights and we have only been able to get the one side of the story," Bates said "At this point, we will have to go forward with what she has to say. In cases like this when we are unable to talk to the other party, we are able to send to the case to the county attorney's office and screen it for charges."
Dating in the digital age
Over the last several years, dating through social media applications and online websites has significantly increased. While crimes linked to social media may have increased in other areas, Bates said she has not noticed an uptick in reports in Summit County.
"I can only speak for the cases that I take in myself, but I haven't seen an increase in these type of reports due to the applications," Bates said. "I also don't know that people are telling us if this is where they met."
Whitney Leavitt, prevention and awareness coordinator with Peace House, also said she has not noticed any correlation between sexual assault and online dating.
"That is a common belief, but I have not heard of any studies to support that," Leavitt said. "Sexual assault is based off of power and control and perpetrators act when they see vulnerability and opportunity. It doesn't' have to do with sexual appeal or the way they are carrying themselves or how they are dressed or where they met."
However, if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, trust your instincts.
"When you are meeting with someone who you have never met in person before and only know through social media, meeting them in a private place could lead them to see you as vulnerable and as an opportune time to assault you," Leavitt said. "Always trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling or if something feels off get yourself out of there. If you want, call our hotline or if you call 911."
Most sites caution users to stay sober, meet in public locations and provide a friend with details of the meeting. The sites also allow users to block and report inappropriate or salacious behavior. However, Bates said older people who are not as familiar with online dating are often more susceptible to deceit.
"I think it is really important that if you are going to be on these websites and use these applications you are very guarded with the information you disclose to people," Bates said. "Make sure it is in a public area where you meet them and get to know them before you divulge any personal information, regardless of age.
"Unfortunately, this generation is not used to the technology," Bates said. "She was new on this website, vulnerable and, for lack of a better word, naïve with this kind of dating."
Bates said the woman delayed reporting the incident because she was embarrassed and blamed herself, adding that other victims experiencing the same feelings of self-blame may have declined to report their assault.
"I think that could be happening as well," Bates said. "Don't wait because you are embarrassed. This was a past occurred assault and it was very difficult finding the suspect. You need to report things as they happen. Don't wait because you are embarrassed. Report it when it is fresh on your mind and when all of the information is new and not dated."
Anyone who may have been a victim of sexual assault is encouraged to contact the Sheriff's Office directly at 435-615-3500. For more information about the services offered through Peace House, contact their hotline at 1-800-647-9161.