Dating has clearly evolved in the 21st Century: with the invention of online dating platforms like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge, people can often enter into a relationship with someone before they ever meet in person. These services can bring people together and forge new connections, with over 25 million estimated users in the United States alone. However, like all new innovations, there are risks inherent in online dating. Predators can access these websites just as easily as anyone else. While technology continues to rapidly change, the law must adapt to provide protections against new risks that arise. The following highlights some of the ways in which the law in New Jersey has adapted to protect the modern dater.
Internet Dating Safety Act.
New Jersey was one of the first states in the country to recognize the need to protect consumers using online dating platforms and applications. The “Internet Dating Safety Act,” originally passed in 2008 under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud statute, requires dating sites to notify users if they do not do criminal background checks on users before allowing them to use their service. Companies are also required to provide safety notifications to users, which include safety measures users should practice while on the applications. The law applies to all websites that offer services to residents of New Jersey, regardless of where the site is based out of. Since the Internet Dating Safety Act falls under the Consumer Fraud Act, companies that ignore the law may be subject to treble damages for unlawful violations.
The law is intended to notify users about the inherent dangers of online dating before they expose themselves to those dangers. However, in 2020 and going forward, this law may seem a bit outdated to the modern dating application user. The background check disclaimer and safety precautions required by the law can easily be placed in the lengthy “Terms and Conditions” section, which few people actually read before clicking “agree.” New Jersey should consider modernizing laws that protect users of online dating sites.
Romeo and Juliet Laws.
Romeo and Juliet laws, which did not originally cater to online relationships, can help protect young daters who are using these applications to meet up with people. If a young person is under the age of 16 and they engage in a sexual relationship with someone over the age of 18, that adult has committed statutory rape in New Jersey. The penalties for committing such a crime can include prison time and registering as a sex offender, both of which have serious, lifelong impacts on a person’s future.
Laws like statutory rape laws are intended to protect minors from being manipulated and abused by adults, some of whom may use online dating services as a hunting ground for victims. While dating apps may ask the person signing up for an account what their age is, there are often no real measures in place to confirm whether they are telling the truth or not. Anyone using an application like Tinder should always use their best judgment when talking to someone they have met on the app.
Dating Relationships Under the Prevention Against Domestic Violence Act.
Previously discussed in this blog, the landmark state court decision C.C. v. J.A.H. expanded who can seek protection from an abuser under the New Jersey Prevention Against Domestic Violence Act. The statute allows victims of domestic violence to, among other avenues of recourse, seek a Final Restraining Order against their abuser. To qualify for a Final Restraining Order, the victim and their abuser must have been in a qualifying relationship, which includes a “dating relationship.”
The decision in C.C. v. J.A.H. expanded the definition of “dating relationship” to include two people who communicated almost entirely over text messages. While the two parties did meet in person, they had never gone on a physical date or met up outside of the gym where they initially met. This modernizes the Prevention Against Domestic Violence Act and shows the willingness of New Jersey courts to adapt the law to modern times. While there has not yet been a decision on whether a relationship that existed entirely online would be covered under the “dating relationship” umbrella, the C.C. v. J.A.H. decision is a promising step for New Jersey in protecting daters in 2020.
While there are some laws in place to protect the modern dater in New Jersey, the legislature must do more to prevent residents from becoming victims of the many dangers inherent in online dating. A recent study by HighSpeedInternet named New Jersey as the 19th most dangerous state for online dating. More dating applications reach the market every year and more individuals are using those applications. The government must do everything in their power to protect New Jersey residents from the dangers of online dating.
Says Tiffany Kaszuba, an advocate for stronger legal protections for victims and a former Congressional candidate: “It’s easy to dismiss the risks of online dating, as it has become such a normal part of dating culture. However, the risks that were first raised in the 90’s as chat rooms became popular have not gone away and with more people using them, there is a wider pool of potential victims for those who would abuse it. It’s important that we remain vigilant and inform users of the risks.”
Rachael Newcomb, who wrote this, is in her 2nd year at Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey.