A location-based social networking and online dating application targeted towards gay, bisexual and transgender people, Grindr, says it takes the recent spate of kidnappings of their subscribers and other safety issues seriously.
This comes after two separate incidents of kidnappings which have seen two subscribers being taken hostage by criminals who have turned this platform into their hunting ground for a quick buck.
Both of the victims were reported in Johannesburg.
Last week, another Grindr victim, identified as Mohau Pholo, was stripped naked and forced to admit to being gay while his kidnappers posted him on social media.
The kidnappers demanded R50 000 from the victim through social media. The victim spent four days being tortured and threatened by the suspects before being rescued on Monday.
In September, police arrested seven men in connection with the kidnapping of a Wits University student and Grinder user.
Police indicated that the suspects demanded R30 000 from the victim’s family. They were tracked down through a cellphone number they had used to collect money for ransom.
Bail was denied for these suspects who have been remanded in custody while the case continues at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court.
It is reported that the seven men arrested in connection with this kidnapping have been linked to 86 other cases involving people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex+ community.
Last month, Gauteng police spokesperson Brigadier Brenda Muridili said the student’s roommate had alerted the police after reporting the 18-year old student missing.
On Saturday, Grindr spokesperson, Sarah Bauer said the company has issued a safety warning for South African subscribers following the recent incidents of kidnapping.
Bauer sai they are working with specialist teams to curb further kidnappings in the country.
“In response to the ongoing kidnappings in South Africa, Grindr has issued a safety warning that users in the country receive daily when they log on to the app, advising utmost caution at this time.
“We are continuing to explore further solutions to this crisis with local partners. In the meantime, our message to users is to think carefully before meeting a new person in a private setting, whether they met the person on Grindr or through other means,” she said.
Safety of their clients who are vulnerable groups in society as minorities was important to them, she said.
“We want only safety and health for all members of the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa and all over the world, which is a key reason we established Grindr for Equality in 2012 to promote the safety, health, and human rights of LGBTQ+ people.
“We condemn the perpetrators of this violence and call on South African law enforcement to use the full strength of their resources to address this problem. We stand ready to assist law enforcement and will continue to fight for the safety and security of the LGBTQ+ community,” Bauer added.
The online dating site has indicated that it has improved some of its safety features to deal with the scourge.
“We at Grindr are acutely aware of this deeply troubling situation. User safety is very important to us as a company. We continually gather information on the safety needs of users around the world and integrate learnings into the app’s features,” she said.
Among these is an option to disable location and distance, a video calling feature in order to verify the person behind their chats as well as a safety warning that identifies suspicious locations.
LGBTQI activist Yaya Mavundla urged young queer people to try to stay off Grindr for a while as it has become a safety risk, while specialist investigator Mike Bolhuis said he has noted an increase in incidents of kidnappings targeted at the LGBTIQ+ community.
“We have also found that on these dating sites, false identities and information theft is enormous. The social media world out there is a dangerous world,” he said.
In the latest incident, Mavundla accused the police of working with the kidnappers, saying their behaviour reinforced their previous experiences.
“The police want support for themselves and not for him. They refused to have one of us offer support to him ... We went to the police station after learning of the situation to try to put pressure on them to track where the perpetrators are.
“However, the police have not tracked the cellphone number of those involved more than four days after the victim was kidnapped,” Mavundla said.