Online dating is a culturally accepted norm in today’s society, and there are a variety of websites and cellphone apps that facilitate the entire dating process, from initial contact and the early “getting to know you” stages to the video dates or in-person meetings. But the appeal of online dating—the ease of cycling through profiles to find similarities and personality matches, connecting from the comfort of your own home, and the ability to compose an online persona rather than react to in-person scenarios—can be ugly when turned on its head, and without a face-to-face meeting, users cannot be entirely sure who they are talking to online, criminal defense lawyers in New Jersey say.
One of the major risks involved with making online connections is that the person on the other end is an underage minor, which takes a social encounter to a whole new level of potential criminality, no matter what the intention is. In a recently publicized case, a New Jersey man has filed a lawsuit against Grindr, a social networking app primarily used for homosexual men to connect, claiming that the site’s moderators do not uphold their posted age restrictions. William Saponaro Jr was arrested and charged with sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child after connecting with a 13-year-old boy posing as an older man on the application.
Grindr’s online rules stipulate that paying users must be 18 years of age or older, and in some locations where 18 is not the age of majority, users must be 21 or over. According to Saponaro, he and another adult involved in the interaction in question assumed that the site’s policy was being enforced, making the user they connected with of legal consenting age. Instead, they were caught making sexual advances to an underage minor, which is a criminal offense in New Jersey under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2C. The pending case against him is still open.
In his lawsuit, Saponaro claims that Grindr was negligent, and did not properly vet the underage user. He was granted access as a paying user of the application, but failed to meet the age requirements. Saponaro claims that he “reasonably believed [the user to be] 18 years or older” because he was on the site.
As online technology advances, the risks involved become greater. Catfishing—the practice of pretending to be someone you are not (female posing as male, minor posing as adult, etc.) in an online forum—is rampant in online dating, so much so that a TV show and a 2010 movie have been made about the concept. In this case, the 13-year-old catfisher on Grindr has led to damaging criminal charges for a man who thought he was interacting with a consulting adult. The negative fallout of catfishing can have serious, permanent consequences.
The family and criminal defense lawyers at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, represent people who have been caught in online fraud or trickery that results in unintentional criminal activity. To discuss the risks associated with online dating and catfishing, contact an HCK criminal defense lawyer today.