- Holden White says he was tortured by a man he met on Grindr last year.
- White said that despite his traumatic ordeal, he still uses Grindr and other LGBTQ dating apps.
- Experts said that if people can take steps to stay safe, apps could do more to protect users.
Disclaimer: This story contains graphic details that readers may find distressing.
After chatting with a man on the gay dating app Grindr for a year, 18-year-old Holden White decided to meet him in June 2020.
At first, he said, he didn’t notice any red flags. But the meeting quickly turned into hours of torture, he said.
White, a student, said he agreed to be handcuffed by 19-year-old Chance Seneca because he was interested in trying something new. But then Seneca pulled out a loaded pistol, White said.
“He then started choking me, and it lasted 30 to 40 minutes, until all the blood vessels in my face ruptured,” White said.
He said he passed out and woke up naked in a bath with six stab wounds to the throat. In an affidavit, an FBI agent said White’s wrists were “sliced to the bone.”
White fell into a coma and spent days intubated in a hospital.
He is now suing Seneca at the state and federal levels. In March, Seneca was charged with hate crimes, gun-related offenses and kidnapping, the Justice Department said. He also faces one charge of attempted murder and one state-level hate crime charge.
But while White demands justice, he still frequently uses Grindr and other dating apps, he said.
“I use all the apps because I don’t blame them 100% for what happened to me,” he said on a video call.
These days, White is taking more precautions, he said.
“Since the incident, I no longer go to their homes,” he said. “Either I meet them in public or they come to my house, because I live in apartments and have roommates, so it’s safer that way.
He added that he hoped his experience would encourage others to use the apps vigilantly.
Several experts told Insider that while there are ways for people to be able to use LGBTQ dating apps safely, apps like Grindr could do more to help mitigate risk for users.
Experts say dating apps could be more proactive to protect users
There are many examples of violent attacks involving LGBTQ dating apps.
This week, an Oregon man charged with beating a man he targeted on Grindr was charged with a hate crime, prosecutors said.
Last month, a man in Texas who used Grindr to lure and steal gay men was sentenced to 23 years in prison. A man in Jamaica who used a gay dating app to meet someone told police the person and two others set him on fire. In the UK, an investigation is investigating how Stephen Port, known as the ‘Grindr Killer’, killed four men he met online.
There is “certainly the potential, the risk and the fear” of these kinds of attacks, said Eli Coston, assistant professor of gender, sexuality and women studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. They added that those who are “bred on the margins” by being trans, a person of color or a working class, for example, were particularly at risk.
But Coston said those apps could also be a “really healthy and very useful tool” for people to make connections and that the security risks don’t justify a “moral panic.”
Coston said that while people using these apps should “understand the risks involved,” the apps could implement features to improve user security, such as verifying the identity of all users within the network. ‘application.
Grindr’s security and privacy policies state that users may be asked to verify their identity with a selfie or official government ID if their account is flagged for impersonation. Coston said that while verification in these cases is important, regular verification of users would provide more protection.
“I think it’s important to point out that most dating apps don’t do this,” they said. “Even the ability to verify your identity and add a badge to your profile so that users know whether or not the person they’re interacting with is verified would be helpful.”
Hornet and Tinder offer verification badges, unlike Grindr, Scruff, and Her, for example.
Coston also recommended that dating apps make it easier to notify a trusted person of your whereabouts through a feature that shares your location with that person.
Grindr does not include this functionality, but in its safety advice it recommends that users let a “responsible” person know where they are going.
“While it’s important to advise users to share their location when they meet someone,” said Coston, “there are certainly ways in which the integration into the app itself would encourage users to be more proactive about it. “
Ian Holloway, an assistant professor of welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Insider he also believes Grindr may take new steps to protect users. He said a “larger workforce” would help him more effectively control profiles and monitor reports.
“There is often very little control due to the large number of guys using these apps,” he told Insider.
By the start of 2021, Grindr had more than 13 million active users worldwide. Grindr said in a blog post in March that he was combining “complex software” with more than 100 customer support and content moderation staff, or roughly one moderator per 130,000 users.
“There isn’t enough content moderation on these platforms,” Holloway said. “And there is really nothing that I have seen that allows users to trace a case where they can reach a real person.”
An October 2020 report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation described claims by people who had used Grindr that its features did not protect users from sexual predators and harassment.
In an emailed statement to Insider, a Grindr spokesperson said, “To promote the well-being of our users, Grindr publishes a Holistic Safety Guide and Safety Tips available from within the app. Grindr and on the Grindr public website.
Grindr encourages users to be careful when interacting with people they don’t know and to report inappropriate or illegal behavior either in the app or directly by email to [email protected] Users are encouraged to report criminal allegations to local authorities, and in those cases, we work directly with law enforcement as appropriate. ”
Coston told Insider they don’t think it goes far enough.
“In my discussions about security and dating apps with members of the LGBTQ + community, many people said they would like additional security features built right into the apps,” they said.
How to stay safe on LGBTQ dating apps
People using dating apps can always take simple steps to protect themselves, Callisto Adams, dating and relationship expert with HeTexted, told Insider.
“Make sure you know who the person behind this profile is before you meet her in person,” Adams said. “Make a video call or a voice call, and you can tell it actually by tone of voice, facial expressions, and willingness to spend time. You can hear the person’s voice, the tone changes. You can tell when she’s hesitant, enthusiastic or secretive about a particular topic. “
White said there was one piece of advice he wished he knew.
“Try researching the person by looking for other profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, something like that,” he said. “I felt I had enough confidence in him, but I was wrong.”