You enter a chat room and start bantering with two guys. One of them rapidly embarks on telling you his life story. The second is actually quite miserly with his personal details and keeps mum. Which one should arouse your suspicions?
The answer, at least according to the new campaign by the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women at the Prime Minister's Office, is a bit surprising: Don't trust either of them.
The Internet campaign on basic precautions for Web dating, part of a larger general campaign designed to set off warning lights for women and assist them in identifying violent characteristics in men, was sparked by cases involving the seduction of minors via the Internet.
Unknown assailants are responsible for at least 20 percent of sexual assaults and rapes, which means that most women are sexually assaulted by someone they know. Even though no data has been compiled either in Israel or anywhere else in the world regarding the number of sexual assaults that can be traced to chat-room introductions, you cannot ignore the risk in meeting a person when the only information you have regarding his character is textual.
Just this past year two Internet-related seduction cases made headlines in Israel: Former television executive Tuvia Sa'ar is suspected of having sexual intercourse with a minor whom he met via a chat room, and a teenager, Ofir Rahum, was lured via ICQ text conversations to come to Ramallah, where he was murdered.
The Internet campaign of precautionary measures when meeting men via the Web accounts for just 5 percent of the campaign's general budget of NIS 950,000. Even so, the positioning of the campaign's banners at the leading portals and at Internet introduction sites seems quite effective.
It is also comforting to learn that the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women does not suffer from the technophobia that is characteristic of many government authorities worldwide. The Authority is also not trying to portray the Internet as a source of evil, but rather a form of communication that must be approached using very basic safety precautions. Ronit Lev-Ari, who heads the Authority, emphasizes that the Internet is "a significant force in introductions," and that "this form of technology must not be discounted." Even so, she explains that during Web-based conversations chatters can become intimate very quickly and this can lead them to neglect reasonable precautionary behavior.
The Authority's Internet guidelines are divided into two sections - things that women should pay attention to during a chat, and tips before a face-to-face meeting. The first part, which, as stated, advises women to be suspicious of both big-mouthed and tight-lipped chat-room partners, also recommends requesting a recent photograph and seems a bit unrealistic.
The other suggestions, on the other hand, are correct and effective. These include a warning against divulging your telephone number right away; being firm about meeting in a public place; and informing a friend that you are going on a date.
The bottom line is that despite the patronizing tone of some of the recommendations, the likelihood that they will prevent situations that are much worse than a plain bad date are worth the effort.
Campaign site: http://www.lapam .gov.il/nashim/tips/html
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