Trans woman warns of dating app danger after Tinder abduction

Trans woman Thabsie Mabezane

A trans woman says she was abducted at gunpoint when meeting a man from Tinder amid a rise in dating app kidnappings and extortion in South Africa, often targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

South African LGBTQ+ activist Thabsie Mabezane said she was aware of the importance of personal safety when meeting a man from Tinder earlier this year in Johannesburg.

Mabezane told Reuters she wanted to meet the man in a public space, instead of at his home, in order to keep herself safe, but she was abducted from their meeting point at gunpoint.

The trans activist said that during the “shocking” incident, she was taken to an abandoned building where her four kidnappers demanded she call friends and ask them to send money. 

After holding her for several hours, a friend and traditional healer who Mabezane called managed to persuade them to let her go without ransom. Mabezane didn’t report the incident because she was afraid she wouldn’t be believed. 

Cases such as Mabezane’s are on the rise in South Africa, with police and activists saying LGBTQ+ people are often targeted due to hatred and intolerance. 

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South African Police Service (SAPS) national spokesperson Athlenda Mathe said: “The SAPS has noticed a trend where perpetrators are targeting unsuspecting individuals on social media networks including dating apps. 

“We have arrested and taken down a few syndicates that were targeting the gay and lesbian community.” 

A Tinder spokesperson said: “The safety of our members is of the utmost importance.” The platform encourages users to report any crimes to local law enforcement. 

Vision Tactical, a local security firm, has called for the dating app Grindr to be banned in South Africa, citing an “alarming rise” in incidents where gay men have been lured to locations where they were physically assaulted, robbed and held hostage.

In September, an 18-year-old student was kidnapped in Johannesburg after meeting someone on Grindr. Police confirmed that he was later rescued and seven suspects arrested.

A Grindr spokesperson told Reuters the company is “acutely aware of this deeply troubling situation” in relation to the kidnapping of people who had used the app to meet others, and is currently working to explore solutions to solve the crisis. 

In 2019, a 13-year-old boy in the UK was raped or sexually abused by at least 21 men he’d met on dating apps including Grindr and Badoo, an investigation by The Sunday Times uncovered.

The popular app already has safety features available, including video calling capabilities to help users verify that the profile they’re communicating with is legitimate. 

Despite her horrific experience, Mabezane doesn’t think that banning dating apps used by the queer community is the answer, as it would further marginalise LGBTQ+ people.

“I don’t think it’s necessary (for Grindr) to be banned,” she said. “That means heterosexual people can use these apps, and they can have good times and good moments finding love, but because you are queer or homosexual, you can’t. 

“There’s a problem with equality there.”

Rape Crisis England and Wales works towards the elimination of sexual violence. If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can access more information on their website or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999. Rape Crisis Scotland’s helpline number is 08088 01 03 02.

Readers in the US are encouraged to contact RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673.

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