Amid allegations tying multiple rape cases to its service, mobile app Skout has suspended its teen community network. Skout functions as a location-based dating app, with the majority of its user base comprised of adults. When Skout decided to create a separate network for users under 18, the company believed it had taken the necessary precautions in separating them from possible predators.
The digital barrier was apparently not enough. A report by the New York Times tied three separate cases involving the rape of minors by adult men to the app. “In one case, a 15-year-old Ohio girl said she had been raped by a 37-year-old man,” the Times reported. “In the second, a 24-year-old man has been accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in Escondido, Calif. In the third, a 21-year-old man from Waukesha, Wis., is facing charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old boy.”
Skout has already taken action, and CEO Christian Wiklund has announced that the app will no longer be available to users under the age of 18. “In recent weeks, we’ve learned of several incidents involving a few bad actions trying to take advantage of some of our younger members,” Wiklund said. “For now, we believe that there’s only one thing we can do: until we can design better protections, we are temporarily shutting down the under-18 community.”
While Skout has taken the right course of action, questions must be raised as to how the situation could have been prevented. Both dating sites and apps set the age restriction at 18, but online information has become increasingly difficult to verify. Even as security measures are improved, under-age users can become equally savvy at circumventing them. In the case in Escondido, police believe that the monitoring of teen internet activity would provide the first line of defense.
“We’re seeing more of these cases,” said Lt. Craig Carter of the Escondido Police Department. “Parents need to be aware that their kids could be on these web sites. In this case, if her parents had taken her phone and looked at her messages on Skout, they would have immediately seen inappropriate responses for someone that is 12 years old.”