CRIMES AGAINST QUEERS
Grindr ‘must take steps’ to protect users after another Joburg kidnapping linked to dating app
Police have arrested a suspect for the kidnapping of a 22-year-old Johannesburg man who was lured using the dating app Grindr. The company said it was ‘acutely aware of this deeply troubling situation’.
A suspect has been charged after a 22-year-old man was abducted in Kensington, Johannesburg, on Thursday, 9 November, after going to meet someone he met on the dating app Grindr.
“This case is already in the court after one suspect was arrested, and it is now in the hands of the NPA,” said Gauteng SAPS spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Mavela Masondo.
The case was postponed to 7 December for further investigations.
The victim, whose name is known to Daily Maverick, was released on Monday, 13 November, and found in Denver, according to Virginia Magwaza, who runs Parents, Families and Friends of South African Queers (PFFSAQ).
The kidnapper allegedly used the victim’s phone to send threatening messages to the victim’s contacts and his mother, saying the victim would be killed if she didn’t pay R50,000.
A horrifying video of the kidnapping circulated on social media. In the video, the kidnappers hold the victim’s genitals and tongue, and seem to be cutting them with a knife. Daily Maverick was unable to confirm whether any payments were made.
Thami Dish of the Thami Dish Foundation, which provides counselling and other trauma services to queer victims, said such kidnappings had been going on for a “very long time”.
In February, police in Johannesburg arrested four suspected members of a kidnapping syndicate which targeted the LGBTQIA+ community. The syndicate has been dubbed the “Grindr Gang”, although the ongoing abductions suggest a number of criminals or groups are using the app to lure victims, rather than a single syndicate.
In July, a gay Soweto man was beaten and robbed of his belongings, allegedly by the Grindr Gang.
In September, seven suspects who allegedly used Grindr to kidnap an 18-year-old Wits student were arrested by a Gauteng police operational task team.
“The kidnappings appear to be increasingly common. In eight months between June 2022 and February 2023, we received 13 reports of attacks by the so-called Grindr Gang,” said Luiz de Barros, communications manager at OUT, an LGBTQIA+ organisation.
“We believe that a corporation like Grindr, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has the resources and responsibility to take steps to verify and help secure its users,” De Barros said.
“The app is meant to be a safe space for queer people but it’s increasingly becoming a hunting ground for criminals in South Africa. Grindr must actively work with the authorities to help them track down these criminals and should be more open and communicate with its users about incidents and what steps they can take to be safer.”
Daily Maverick contacted Grindr about the kidnappings. In an emailed response, the company said it was “acutely aware of this deeply troubling situation”.
“User safety is very important to us as a company, and we continually gather information on the safety needs of users around the world and integrate learnings into the app’s features,” it said.
The company listed safety features on the app.
- The option for users to disable the “show distance” feature on their profile to mask their location.
- The discrete app icon and PIN code features create extra layers of protection if someone gets access to a user’s phone.
- Multiple pathways to report abusive accounts to the customer service team.
- A system of safety warnings that notify users when they’re logging in from a place where they may face increased danger due to being LGBTQIA+.
“In response to the ongoing kidnappings in South Africa, Grindr has issued a safety warning that users in the country receive daily when they log on to the app advising the utmost caution at this time. We are continuing to explore further solutions to this crisis with local partners.
“In the meantime, our message to users is to think carefully before meeting a new person in a private setting, whether they met the person on Grindr or through other means,” the company said.
“We want only safety and health for all members of the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa and all over the world, which is a key reason we established Grindr for Equality in 2012 to promote the safety, health and human rights of LGBTQ+ people.
“We condemn the perpetrators of this violence and call upon South African law enforcement to use the full strength of their resources to address this problem. We stand ready to assist law enforcement, and will continue to fight for the safety and security of the LGBTQ+ community.” DM