Update on the National Roundtable on Online Dating Safety

The Albanese Labor Government has continued important work to keep Australians safe following the National Roundtable on Online Dating Safety in January.

The roundtable brought together expert voices from the online dating industry, state and territory governments, law enforcement, academia and NGOs will examine ways to better protect Australians when using online dating and matchmaking services.

Participants agreed to work together on ways to prevent the exploitation of online dating services by perpetrators, support users who experience harm, empower users with information on safe and positive online dating practices, and encourage greater uptake of technological solutions to prevent harm.

Last week, the Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP, issued a detailed information request to the top ten online dating services used by Australians about the extent of harms occurring on their services, and the safety policies and procedures they have in place to keep their Australian users safe.

Minister Rowland has sought a range of information from the dating apps including;

  • the number of user reports received from Australians about sexual harassment and abuse that they experienced while using the service, or reported following a date;
  • the actions that platforms take in response to reports such as user bans, referrals to police or support services, or other actions; and
  • the processes that platforms have in place to prevent banned users from creating new accounts.

The information request was a key outcome of January’s National Roundtable, which was co-convened by Minister Rowland and the Minister for Social Services, the Hon Amanda Rishworth MP.

Australian Government agencies and the online dating industry are continuing work to deliver the Roundtable outcomes.

The Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commissioner is working with the eSafety Commissioner, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) to inform further consultation with victim-survivors about their lived experiences of harm facilitated by dating apps.

This work is progressing in consultation with Minister Rishworth’s office.

The Attorney-General’s Department is progressing work to address the exploitation of online dating services by perpetrators, after the Minister for Communications wrote to the Attorney to seek advice. This advice is expected by the end of June.

At the industry level, the Government has welcomed action taken by major dating platforms, Match Group and Bumble, since the Roundtable. This includes:

  • engagement with law enforcement to strengthen reporting and referral pathways for people who experience violence in connection with a dating app;
  • introduction of new app features to increase user safety; and
  • collaboration with Australian women’s safety experts.

Roundtable participant Chanel Contos, whose organisation Teach Us Consent develops and advocates on holistic consent and sexuality education, has since engaged with Match Group, along with WESNET, who is also supporting the work of Bumble.

This responds to a key outcome of the Roundtable, to empower users with information on safe and positive dating practices, with industry and civil society to work together to develop and distribute information on sexual violence and positive dating behaviours to dating app users.

The Australian Government will continue to put pressure on online dating services to be transparent about the safety of their users, making clear that services will be held to account for sexual harassment and abuse facilitated by their platforms.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP:

“Dating apps are now the most common way to meet a partner in Australia. I’m determined that online dating platforms are committed to ending violence against women and I am pleased with recent progress that has been made.

“Policy options to prevent sexual abuse and violence on online dating services raise complex issues around privacy, user safety and data collection and management. That is why it is critical for government’s actions in this space to be evidence based and informed.

“The work we are undertaking will provide the Government a strong evidence base as we consider policy reform options that may be required in this area, and we are committed to continue to consult closely with industry, survivors and experts as this work progresses.”

Quotes attributable to Minister for Social Services, the Hon Amanda Rishworth MP:

“Online dating platforms provide a level of anonymity that we know can sometimes allow and fuel behaviour that would not normally be tolerated in person.

“One of the cross-cutting principles of the National Plan is holding perpetrators to account and this also has to apply to how we look at solutions for safer platforms. We have to start asking ‘why didn’t he change his behaviour’ or ‘how can he change his behaviour’ rather than ‘why didn’t she just report him’ or ‘why did she continue dating him’.

“The four pillars of the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children of Prevention, Early Intervention, Response and Recovery need to be embedded in the design of these platforms to keep their users safe.”