Black Love? Vol.1: Examining the risk of online dating for Black people

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Editor’s Note: The following piece discusses sensitive topics, including death and gender-based violence. For resources on these topics and more, please click HERE

The recent deaths of Lauren Smith-Fields, Brenda Rawls, and Asia Maynard have shaken up the Black community in devastating ways. Their families have suffered insurmountable losses and the issue of safety for Black people, particularly Black women, remains an ongoing conversation. 

As we mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Black Women’s History Month, the Black Information Network thought it necessary to discuss the deaths of Smith-Fields, Rawls, and Maynard, as an addition to the work activists and organizations who dedicate their service to protecting Black women and raising up the names of the women we’ve lost. 

Say Their Names

Smith-Fields’, Rawls’, and Mayndard’s lives ended after going on dates/ meeting up with someone. For Smith-Fields and Maynard, each used apps to set up their meetings. As their families fight for justice, the Black community is demanding more from police and from one another when it comes to safety. 

Smith-Fields and Rawls both died in December 2021 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The 23-year-old college student was reported dead by the man she’d met up earlier in the evening, identified as Matthew LaFountain. Rawls reportedly died in her sleep after leaving her home to travel to an acquaintance’s home near hers.

Their families have publicly stated that Bridgeport Police did not notify them of their loved ones’ deaths; with Rawls’ family explaining to NBC News that they called around to different funeral homes before one suggested they call the state medical examiner’s office. Smith-Fields’ mother, Shantell Fields, has stated that she only found out about her daughter’s death after finding a note on the apartment door that said to call the landlord. 

The state has since advanced legislation that would legally compel officers to contact next of kin within 24 hours of making a positive identification of a deceased person or the remains of a deceased person. 

Asia Maynard died on February 18, 2022, after setting up a date with a man her family did not know. Her sister reported Asia missing to authorities who told them that she was probably fine. As in the other women’s cases, no one in the Kansas City Police Department notified Maynard’s next of kin about her passing. 

The lack of dignity and respect in the investigations of these women’s deaths is a shocking and heartbreaking reminder of the devaluation of Black life and safety.

And while Twitter conversations on the state of dating while Black often include hot takes on splitting dinner checks, how quickly people text back, and the mechanics of situationships, it’s important to call out the very real risk Black people and women take when dating. 

The data shows that in life, in the pursuit of joy and love, saying “no” puts Black women at risk of violence.

We Don’t Feel Safe

A survey conducted by the BLK Dating App named the largest dating app for Black singles, found that 78% of Black women ages 18-34 living in the US do not feel safe. The in-app survey also found that 34% of Black women in the same age group don’t feel safe on mainstream dating apps.

Black women are more likely to be victims of certain crimes overall. Being a Black woman means I’m at risk of both overt and subtle racial discrimination, micro-aggressions, wage discrimination, and more –– so feeling safe is relative to all that,” one survey respondent wrote, according to a report.

It’s not just a feeling. Crime data collected by the FBI showed that in 2020, four Black women and girls were murdered every day in the US. Black people, particularly women and children, go missing in this country at higher rates than any other group. However, the media attention lacks considerably compared to white people who go missing. 

Organizations like the Black and Missing Foundation and Erika Marie RiversOur Black Girls work to shed light on this traumatic state of reality for Black people. The tireless efforts of crime victims’ families compel our communities to take action and raise awareness, even when police do not notify next of kin or take our cases seriously.

What’s Possible

While the fight for building a society that effectively protects Black women on a systemic and societal level continues, some experts suggest taking a few steps in online pursuits of romance

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) recommends taking the following steps while engaging in online dating: 

  1. Block and Report suspicious users and accounts 
  2. Research a potential date on social media before meeting up
  3. Use different photos for your dating profile from social media to prevent someone from reverse searching you online and locating your social media accounts in the process. 
  4. Avoid connecting with suspicious accounts or profiles
  5. Video chat before meeting up in person
  6. Tell a friend or loved one where you’re going 
  7. Meet in public settings
  8. Avoid relying on your date for transportation 

For a complete list of RAINN’s Online Dating Resources, please click HERE.

Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

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