Reducing the Risks for Meeting an Online Acquaintance
In the information age, there are unlimited ways to meet people with similar interests. The most common are websites, chatrooms, and even old-fashioned personal ads. These venues are great for getting people in touch with others, but they also provide cover and anonymity to people who want to do harm. Unfortunately, because of the stigma and prejudice against people with a BDSM orientation in our society, it is somewhat difficult for people in the BDSM community to meet partners in safer, real-life social gatherings. Meeting partners is especially difficult in rural or very conservative areas.
As a result of the risks of meeting people online, and the vulnerability that BDSM itself brings to meeting a potential partner, the BDSM community has developed tools and safety procedures to help significantly reduce the hazards of meeting a new acquaintance in real life. However, these tools are just as valuable to people who are not affiliated with BDSM, and could even save your life. This page describes the safety procedures in detail, and it is our hope that you will use them to protect yourself in any situation that you may need them.
Initial Real-Life Contact
After conversing with a person online or over the phone, you may want to take the next step and actually arrange a meeting. A first meeting should be set up in a very public place with many exits, and should preferably have security readily available. Mall food courts are usually very good for this purpose. You may also want to set up a safecall, which is discussed in detail in another section of this page. When your potential partner arrives, converse with him or her about non-personal issues for a while until you feel comfortable that you are still interested in the person. Don’t reveal anything that could be used to identify or trace you until your instincts have had a chance to evaluate how things are going. Be weary of a person who tries to push you into a conversation topic that you are uncomfortable with, or who seems not to be interested in you as a person.
If you are unsure about whether or not you like the person, or don’t feel entirely safe, feel free to end the meeting at any time. (Be sure to exit as outlined below.) You can either call it quits there, or arrange another very public meeting to get to know the person better. This procedure is not rude, and the worst the person can do is say no.
When and if you decide that you like the person, and you are comfortable that he or she is probably safe to become more involved with, then you should exchange driver’s licenses. Have something to write with handy, and write down every single piece of information on the license. Make sure that it is indeed a State-issued, photo ID. Video rental membership cards or work IDs are not acceptable. You should also ask for, and give, personal references to be called to check on each other’s background. References should have phone numbers, not e-mail addresses, since it is not possible to evaluate a reference over e-mail. It should be stated that you have every right to walk away at any time you feel uncomfortable with the person.
Of course, not everyone knows these safety procedures. You should warn the person beforehand that you will ask for ID and references, so that he or she can have a fair chance to ask some friends to expect your call.
The exit from a public meeting is very important. You must not leave the meeting place with the person, and you also must not let him or her see you walk to your vehicle. Exit the mall or other area by different doors, and be sure you are not followed. It is vital that you not go anywhere with the person yet, because only you have his or her ID information.
After the Meeting
Once you are home, immediately call a friend with all the information you wrote down from the person’s ID, as well as a physical description of him or her for your friend to write down. Be sure that the friend you choose is reliable and responsible, because your safety may depend on that choice.
Begin calling the personal references that the person gave as soon as possible. You are evaluating what the reference says about the person, as well as the reference himself or herself. After all the references have been checked and the person’s information is in the hands of your friend, you may feel comfortable setting up a more private date with the person. Once you have chosen a time with him or her, be sure to specify an appropriate location. The only appropriate locations are the residence listed on your Driver’s License, the residence listed on the other person’s Driver’s License, or a public place. Once the time and location are set, you are ready to arrange a safecall.
The safecall is the single most important tool you can use to increase your level of safety. A safecall is a call made to a friend at a prearranged time, with a prearranged code-word to mean that you are safe. In order for the safecall to be effective, your friend must know exactly where you are, and have all the personal information about the person you are meeting. Instruct your friend that if you don’t call within ten minutes of the prearranged time with the proper code-word, he or she should send police to the address where you planned to be.
Since a safecall is only as effective as the accuracy of the information you give your friend, you must take steps to ensure its accuracy. First, go only to the place where you told your friend you would be, and drive yourself directly there. Don’t arrange to meet your partner somewhere and drive to another location. Once at the location, don’t leave until the date is over. When you arrive for the date, inform your partner that you must make a safecall at the time you arranged with your friend, but don’t tell him or her whom you are calling or your code-word. If things go wrong and you are in danger, make the safecall, but don’t use your code-word to your friend. With the code-word missing, your friend will know there is a problem. Finally, it is perfectly acceptable to set up several safecalls for the course of the date instead of just one.
Other Safety Advice
There are many other measures you may take to ensure your safety. Not all of them are right for everyone, but you have the right to choose what works best for you. One thing you may consider is bringing a friend along on your dates. This may be a bit awkward for some, but may work well for others. If you are a member of the BDSM community, you may want to avoid inescapable bondage during your first several dates with a new partner. In any case, always make your own personal limits clear to partners before engaging in any personal activity. Clear, direct communication is the most effective way to protect yourself from most problems.