Wits kidnapping – LGBTQ activist raises ‘syndicate’ alarm as police probe dozens of similar cases
The arrest of seven suspects over the kidnapping of a University of the Witwatersrand student is merely a ‘good start’, says the activist.
Kidnappings such as this have been going on for a “very long time”, said Thami Dish of the Thami Dish Foundation, which provides counselling and other trauma services to queer victims.
He was reacting to the arrest of seven suspects who allegedly used the Grindr gay dating app to kidnap the Wits student, as it emerged that the suspects have been linked to at least 85 such cases involving members of the LGBTQ community.
The 18-year-old was kidnapped on 19 September and rescued the next day from the Denver men’s hostel in the east of Johannesburg, in an operation by a multidisciplinary team led by Gauteng police commissioner Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela.
The operation involved Gauteng Crime Intelligence, Hillbrow detectives and Johannesburg Trio Detectives, as well as private security firms, including Vision Tactical, Organised Crime Investigations, JT VIP, Johannesburg Metro Police K9, Cellular Data Investigation experts, CAP Security and the Fidelity Strategic Team.
Police said the seven would be charged with kidnapping and extortion after allegedly demanding a R30,000 ransom from the victim’s family.
“The student was reported missing the same day by his roommate. It is reported that he was lured to the suspects through a dating site called Grindr. The suspects demanded R30,000 from his family for his safe return,” police said on Thursday.
The police had arrested one suspect who was trying to withdraw the ransom money, which led to the discovery of the victim and the arrest of the six other suspects.
“The victim was rushed to hospital for medical attention.”
Dish said he was pleased with the arrests, although it was merely a “good start”, since, worryingly, no arrests had been made in connection with previous kidnappings.
These incidents had been occurring for a long time and it was clear that a syndicate was on the prowl, he added.
“It’s been going on for a very long time and we have been reporting this to police stations. I have referred some cases to NPOs that provide trauma services,” Dish told Daily Maverick on Friday.
Once again, this horrific crime reflects the violence and discrimination our LGBTQI+ community continues to face.
The Wits kidnapping highlighted yet again the dangers of online dating. These kidnappings had been going on for a “very long time”.
He said queer people have many ways to connect with potential partners, some of which leave them vulnerable to kidnappers.
“If you look at what Tinder does, it connects people who are looking for love. It’s the same experience with Grindr but obviously vulnerable queer people are the target on the Grindr app.
“The app connects people and they meet in hotels where suddenly assailants will appear from cupboards and kidnap the victims for ransom.”
His foundation had not handled cases specifically involving Wits University students.
Targets of violence
Keval Harie of the GALA Queer Archive said on Friday: “This story is really disconcerting. Especially as these kidnappings have been going on for quite a while. Once again, this horrific crime reflects the violence and discrimination our LGBTQI+ community continues to face.”
GALA Queer Archive raises awareness around the lives of LGBTQIA+ people.
When asked what potential partners should look out for when meeting their online dates, security expert Herman Bosman said: “Obtain full details of the person scheduled to meet (ID, passport and address).”
There were several things to look out for, including:
- Verify details using open-source platforms;
- Request Facetime or a video call and obtain as much information as possible;
- Schedule the first meeting at a neutral location such as a coffee shop or other public place with many people;
- It may also be wise to be accompanied by a friend;
- An honest person would not mind providing his or her personal details with the necessary proof;
- The stranger should provide required information to identify him/her but it is important to verify this independently;
- Children should be cautioned about meeting strangers online when gaming. Slowly over time they build a relationship and gain your trust, identifying themselves with false credentials. As the trust relationship grows they obtain more and more personal and confidential information. A meeting request may also follow, luring the victim into a trap either to be robbed, kidnapped, extorted or even raped;
- Do not be naive or feel guilty because you do not trust strangers. Stick to the safety rules/guidelines you decided on and implement them regardless of what you may feel;
- If in doubt, do not proceed with the appointment;
- Always notify a friend/family of your location and scheduled meetings; and
- Park your vehicle under lights, cameras and behind a boom, if possible, at the public location. DM