Parents’ Worst Fear: Flirting App Used By Rapists To Lure Teenagers

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I try really hard not to be an alarmist about the dangers facing kids and teens. I don’t like saying that a person’s behavior caused them to become a victim of sexual assault. That puts the weight and responsibility of the crime on the victim, instead of focusing the blame on attacker where it belongs. Teens are not raped because of their online behavior, they’re raped because someone else made a choice to do something horrible.

That being said, a recent string of attacks has shown that rapists are using a new social media platform to meet and lure teenagers. Skout, a “flirting app” that was originally created for adults, launched a teen version last year. After learning that teens were using the adult model, founder Christian Wiklund decided to create a separate network for teenagers that could be better monitored.

The teen version of Skout, made for people age 13-17, contains parental controls, less-specific GPS, as well as employees and computer systems that monitor for illicit language, nude photos, profanity or violent speech. Unfortunately, all of those safety precautions didn’t stop three separate adult males from meeting and luring teenagers into real-life attacks.

In California, Ohio and Wisconsin, three teenagers met up with men who they thought were own age. In all three instances, the men were in their 20s or older, and they raped their teenage victims. Two young women and one young man were assaulted by men they met through the social media platform.

For its part, Skout seems to be genuinely upset about the use of its program, and not just from a business standpoint. They immediately shut down their teen service while they consult with safety experts to see how the app can be made safer. Mr. Wiklund has been forthright and honest, granting interviews and trying to help the cases in whatever ways he can. “I’m disgusted by what’s happened here,” he said. “One case is too many. When you have three, it looks like a pattern. This is my worst fear.”

Police investigating these cases have used them as rallying points to show that parents need to be more cognizant of their kid’s actions. An officer working on the case in California said,  “Parents need to be aware that their kids could be on these Web sites. In this case, if her parents had taken her phone and looked at her messages on Skout, they would have immediately seen inappropriate responses for someone that is 12 years old.”

I realize the police officer’s goal is to protect kids in the future, but I’m still upset to see the blame being put on the parents for failure to check their daughter’s messages, as opposed to focusing it all on the 24-year-old man who raped a 12-year-old girl. Once again, this child wasn’t raped because she shared inappropriate texts, she was raped because a man made a choice to rape her. He is the one at fault.

No matter what, it’s nice to see that the company has so quickly reacted to these upsetting cases and is taking action to prevent future abusers from corrupting their business. An investor with the company said this week, “I thought we were doing a lot [about safety and security], but obviously we have to do better. This is a five-alarm fire. The entire company is re-evaluating everything it’s doing.”

The focus should not be solely on Skout though. Sadly, if this means wasn’t available, a rapist would find another way to interact with young people. While it’s good to make our social media safe and educate our teens about safe conduct online, the real issue that America still refuses to address is rape culture in general. We need to look at the men and women committing rape, instead of continuing to ask what the rest of the world should be doing to protect ourselves. We need to stop focusing on how the victim asked for attention, and continue the fight against those who choose to prey on young people.