Rape Crisis Scotland has launched a campaign to counteract the growing number of women being targeted by sexual predators they meet online.
It comes as Police Scotland issued a warning that rapists were increasingly using the sites to target victims.
Campaigners are calling for the companies running the sites to increase security measures to protect users.
Rape Crisis Scotland’s campaign highlights the risks of online sexual abuse and offers advice on how to stay safe.
The organisation says it saw a 46% increase in the number of contacts made by victims of sexual assault during 2012-13, compared with the previous year, with many linked to dates arranged online.
Eileen Maitland, information officer for Rape Crisis Scotland, said they wanted to make women more vigilant when using dating websites.
“We’re talking about being careful about privacy and being cautious about the step between online contact and real-life contact,” she said.
The nature of the whole internet dating scene lends itself to those who would want to use it to target vulnerable people.
“The internet makes it very easy for people to quickly connect with others and find out and send very personal information. But it also allows people to hide who they really are and what they are doing. Some people use the internet to harm others.
“Even when people have met for a couple of dates they are still vulnerable so the advice is remain vigilant and follow common sense safety procedures as outlined on our website.”
Police Scotland said there was an emerging trend of women being targeted online by rapists and incidents of these types of sexual assaults were on the rise.
Detective superintendent Louise Raphael, head of the national rape task force, said the web offered more opportunities for sexual predators and that they were becoming more manipulative in the way they targeted their victims.
“The reality is women are meeting up with people they don’t know. Women are finding themselves in a very vulnerable position,” she said.
“The nature of the whole internet dating scene lends itself to those who would want to use it to target vulnerable people.”
Raphael said she believed websites could do more to protect users and to mitigate some of the potential risks.
The Online Dating Association said it was aware of the risks and would work with police and campaigners to improve safety.
George Kidd, chief executive, said: “If you consider that online dating accounts for one-quarter to a half of all new relationships, and tens of millions of people are signed up, then there are risks there, in the same way as going to a pub.”
|Keeping online dating safe|
|Use reputable dating sites|
|Be very careful about where, how and when you meet online contacts in person|
|Find ways of checking that the person you are meeting is sincere. One way to test this is to find an excuse to take a picture of them early on and see how they react|
|Always meet and stay in a busy public place; do that for several meetings|
|Do not accept a lift from your date; do not go to their house; and do not invite them to yours|