Police urge caution after attacks stemming from Grindr meet-ups

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Grindr users have been targeted by criminals. –

Head of the police Special Victims Unit Supt Claire Guy-Alleyne said lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) people should be careful and do their due diligence before going to meet people who they have met online.

She made the comment in a telephone interview with Newsday following two incidents where gay men were attacked and robbed after arranging to meet men they met on the dating app Grindr.

“People have a personal responsibility to be in charge of their online persona on conduct. People can pretend to be anyone on the Internet. Do your due diligence on the people you’re talking to. Be aware that you don’t know who the other person is and you could be putting yourself at risk. You have to be careful.”

Guy-Alleyne said the police would not know if people are attacked owing to their special characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation unless the victim reports it when giving their statement to the police.

“It’s a pressing issue at this time. Hate has no place in our society. People should not be discriminated against because of their special characteristics. As police officers, we have a duty to protect every citizen, regardless of your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or any other special characteristics an individual would have and we would not tolerate hate-fueled actions that would separate us as a society.”

She urged the public to report any crimes that might be considered hate crimes, whether against them or others.

“We don’t have a specific hate crime category in legislation, but people may be assaulted or wounded because of their special characteristics. The perpetrator would be charged for assault and wounding and it would be considered a hate crime.

“I’m encouraging people to report these crimes and not be ashamed. We ought to create an environment where everybody can feel safe notwithstanding their special characteristics. We owe it to our citizens as law enforcement people to ensure that happens in Trinidad and Tobago. People should be able to report an incident without being laughed at. They should be treated like any other citizen coming to make a report.”

Supt Claire Guy-Alleyne head of the Special Victims Unit of the police service. – File photo

On April 22, a teacher was robbed and beaten in east Port of Spain after he arranged to meet a man there.

On October 3 2023, a 25-year-old, from Queens, New York was robbed and stripped of his clothing when he went to meet a man on Nelson Street.

For lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people, meeting new people interested in romantic or sexual relationships has always been a risky proposition. Dating apps, while presenting a wider range of possibilities, have made it both easier to find partners as well as to be targeted for violent crime.

Typically, Grindr is used by gay men looking to meet up for sex or dating.

There have been other reports of such incidents on social media, and attacks before the advent of dating apps, as with the attack on Akil Thomas in 2014. He went out with a male friend he had known on Facebook for over a year and was stabbed 13 times.

Luke Sinnette, a social worker at Friends For Life, an organisation which advocates for sexual minorities and provides emergency services, sexual health education and prevention information, said he was glad the latest incident has been reported in the media.

“Part of the victimology is that bandits target people who they think will not go and talk because their sexual orientation or gender identity can be exposed, and that is going to cause further stigma and discrimination for them later on. People target soft targets because they think they are less likely to go and make a formal report or to tell family and friends, to come out and say this has happened to them. We are glad that the gentleman made the report, and he at least was brave enough to come out and say what happened.

Programme and research officer for Caiso’s: Sex and Gender Justice Wholeness and Justice initiative, Kellog Nkemakolam said 21 per cent of the people who approached the organisation for assistance in 2022 reported violence of some sort, whether physical, verbal or via social media based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

“During this period, no one reported having met their attackers through online dating apps (eg Grindr). But we know via anecdotal evidence and news reports that this is something community members have experienced. This is one of the primary reasons why the Safer Together campaign was initially launched in 2018 and re-launched in 2023. The campaign includes messaging around community vigilance and adopting safety practices especially when meeting up with people from online platforms.”

Sinnette said people should not have to be ashamed or afraid of doing what comes naturally to human beings, meeting and socialising with others.

“All of us have friends online and then we decide we’re going to meet these friends. This is not something uncommon to human beings. All of us know this is the experience we have and it’s a terrible thing that people should now be living in fear because this is a thing that happens, a fear gets instilled and we have to live in fear not just of crime happening all over the place, crime happening with home break-ins, now there’s also a real fear of being targeted in this very particular way online.”

“There’s additional stigma that comes through and upon it when it comes out, because people say, what you expect, you gone looking for that, but really and truly it’s the most normal thing and the most human thing, to talk to somebody and want to say I want to get to know you better.”

Sinnette said LGBTQI+ people should also be aware that they could be targeted for romance scams.

“It’s not just people luring you in to rob you or commit violent acts against you in person, it’s also about bandits meeting and befriending you online and convincing you to send them money. Then they say if you tell anyone I’ll expose you, and so people are also afraid to come out and report that at the risk of getting exposed.

“This is just a way that homophobia creates an unsafe space, or it continues to add, to a space that is already turbulent. Everybody is concerned about crime and then homophobia adds a particular kind of victimology on top of that. Bandits want to be smart about how they target their victims.”

Nkemakolam said the prevalence of stigma and discrimination against LGBTQI+ people exposes them to violence in different spheres of their lives.

“This impacts how LGBTQI+ people are able to express themselves, enjoy their human rights and access goods and services, employment and housing etc. Community members experience violence from private persons, people with whom they share familial relationships, intimate partners, law enforcement and public service providers; in their homes, in public spaces, in places of employment etc, and on a state level, in the absence of inclusive and protective laws, policies and practices.”

He said police response to these incidents varies, depending on the outlook and disposition of the attending officer and their perception of the victim, among other unsuitable considerations.

“Hence, there is a need for concrete protective and response mechanisms that establish a standard which reinforces the provision of service to all, without discrimination by reasons including sexual orientation and gender identity. These mechanisms ought to emphasise the duty of care that service providers have to people accessing services and must be consistently monitored and evaluated for their efficacy. The mechanisms must also be supported by clear complaint procedures for aggrieved persons to report and seek redress when service providers infringe on their rights. Further, training on gender and LGBTQI+ sensitivity must be provided for public servants including police officers and healthcare workers.”