I had occasion to monitor a Dating Violence injunction hearing on Wednesday in Judge Theotis Bronson's courtroom that emphasizes the need for caution in using these sites. I also found it difficult to suppress my laughter at the end of the hearing because the Respondent tied a noose around his own neck and even his attorney couldn't rescue him.
The parties met on match.com in early September and went on four dates over the course of the month. Both individuals are well-educated and professional. The Respondant became angry that the Petitioner was not yet willing to have an exclusive relationship with him and he texted her 18 times in just a few hours once he knew she was going on a date with someone else. She described his behavior as erratic, fanatical and obsessive. After receiving the texts, she told him the relationship was over. She "unfriended" him in cyberspace later that night.
The morning after her date with someone else, he called her and asked if she had spoken with her best friend and her ex-husband yet. She had not. Within a few minutes her friend, who is a teacher at a local high school, contacted her because the Respondent had sent a defamatory email to the principal and the admistration of her school (addresses which he gleaned from the school's website). The email anonymously claimed that she (the friend) regularly smoked pot, which would be grounds for dismissal from her job. The judge, who is very low key and not given to emotional displays in the courtroom, was obviously appalled. After the friend testified, the judge questioned the Respondent extensively, who admitted to sending the email, about his motives for doing so. Ultimately, the Respondent said he regretted sending it.
I sensed that the judge was ready to sign the paperwork after the first email, but the Petitioner had mentioned at the beginning of the hearing that her ex-husband had received an email too. After establishing that her divorce had been fairly lengthy and the issue of child custody had been contentious, the judge asked to see that email. I was on the edge of my seat as I watched the judge's expression change to a look of incredulity. I wished I could see what he was looking at. I didn't have to wait for long.
The Respondent alleged in the email that the Petitioner had been having sexual relations with black men. Judge Bronson, an African-American, asked him what would be wrong with that? I could almost see the beads of perspiration break out on the Respondent's forehead as he fumbled for an answer. The attorney tried to salvage the situation as best he could, but when your ship is sinking quickly, a small bucket won't help much.
In his closing argument, the Respondent's attorney admitted his client had behaved foolishly and despicably by anonymously emailing unfounded and slanderous accusations designed to cause problems for the Petitioner and her best friend. He tried to convince the judge that an injunction was not needed because the Respondent has not contacted the Petitioner since the day of the emails (neglecting to mention that she had received a temporary injunction the following day).
Ultimately, the judge granted a one year injunction against the Respondent. I only wish he'd included an impulse control class.
Here are some tips for online dating that you might not have seen before:
- Most websites have a section about being safe - read what they say!
- Don't give out a home phone number (which can easily identify your address with a reverse lookup website). Communicate by cell phone or email until you feel comfortable meeting with the person.
- Protect information about your employment location - this includes the name of your company, a work phone number, etc.
- Use an email address on a free provider like yahoo or gmail that doesn't indicate your complete name. I didn't tell my now-husband my last name until after we met face-to-face and I learned that he had security clearances to go into nuclear sites (Uncle Sam saved me the step of doing a background check on him!)
- Find out where your prospective date has lived so you can check those jurisdictions' Clerk of Court websites to see if they've been involved in any legal action (this can be tricky if you're checking out a woman who has had more than one last name in her lifetime). Make sure you have their full legal name and check variations. If you know their date of birth, that helps, especially when they have a fairly common name.
- When you finally decide to meet someone, pick a place that offers valet parking. This helps that often awkward end-of-evening moment when having someone you don't really know walk you to your car can make you feel uncomfortable. A side benefit is that the valet attendants will usually get the lady's car first, thus giving her a slight head start out of the parking lot. It's worth paying the tip to do this.
- If possible, make a note of the type of car your date drives so you can determine whether or not you're being followed.