Rape case prompts dating site to begin screening for sex offenders

 

The dating website match.com has been forced to begin checking its clients against criminal databases after being sued by a Californian woman who claimed to have been raped by a convicted sex attacker she met on the site.

The management of match.com, whose almost two million members in the United States pay about $30 (£18.50) a month for access to its database of potential life partners, announced the move in an attempt to limit the public-relations damage after the woman said that her attacker, Alan Wurtzel, had "six previous sexual convictions for sexual battery" in Los Angeles, according to a class action lawsuit filed last week. He was able to use the site to arrange meetings with further unwitting victims.

The president of match.com, Mandy Ginsberg, admitted on Sunday that her decision to begin cross referencing the names of members with the national sex-offender registry had been hastened by the Wurtzel case being made public. But she added that plans to introduce screening had been in the works for some time.

In the past, the "historical unreliability" of sex-offender databases had prevented her company from using them to vet clients, she said. "But we've been advised that a combination of improved technology and an improved database now enables a sufficient degree of accuracy to move forward with this initiative, despite its continued imperfection."

Her decision has prompted sparked widespread debate in a country where dating is a serious business. Roughly one in five Americans now meets a spouse through online matchmaking sites; the industry boasts $2bn in revenue and roughly $400m in profits each year.

Companies such as match.com and the market leader, eharmony.com, claim they are not responsible for the veracity of statements made by their members, or even for checking that customers will look anything like the tall, dark, handsome alpha males in online profile pictures.

Users of match.com are "solely responsible" for subsequent interactions with people they meet there, according to the small print.

But it is not clear whether that sort of disclaimer will be enough to protect dating companies in court. The victim of Wurtzel, an "Ivy League graduate who works in film and television", told ABC news that match.com ought to be responsible for taking reasonable steps to safeguard its clients. She was raped in 2010 after agreeing to a second date with Wurtzel, who then followed her into her home and attacked her at the end of the night.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was going out with a criminal," she said. Charges are currently pending in the case. An attorney for Wurtzel, whose previous convictions stretch back a decade, told reporters that the alleged incident was "a consensual sexual encounter".

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