This article was written by Forsyth Central High School journalism students in partnership with the Forsyth County News.
By Christina Cannady, Brianna Noto and Mckenzie See-Holbrooke
Online dating has lost a great deal of its stigma. Nearly 50 million people have tried online dating, and the majority of its users say that using these services is a great way to meet new people, according to DatingNews, an online site. That’s what Youtuber Brittani Louise Taylor thought until she met Milos Mihajlovic.
Taylor and Mihajlovic got engaged and had a son together in 2016. Brittani had no idea that Milos lied to her about the majority of his life, claiming that he was a doctor, that he made more money than he did, and even faked falling ill with cancer.
Mihajlovic was also physically and verbally abusive and tried to convince Brittani to hand over her and their son’s official documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards. Taylor claims that he was planning on trafficking her and their baby son.
“I went to the courthouse and basically said, ‘I feel like [Milos and his mother] are going to try to take my child and leave the country,’” Taylor said. “Every police officer and person we’ve talked to thinks they were going to try and traffick us.”
Taylor was lucky. After many long days in court, she has custody of her son and a restraining order against Mihajlovic that’s up for renewal in August of this year. She now shares her story in her memoir, “A Sucky Love Story.”
However, situations such as this are not uncommon and there are many who have not been so lucky, and it’s increasingly becoming a dangerous place for teens ages 12-17 who are beginning to use these apps as well, and lying about their age to do so. According to the Pew Research Center, about 57 percent of teens have started friendships in a digital space.
“I use Tinder to meet people from the LGBT community that are close by,” said Kenny, a West Forsyth High School student who like other students interviewed for this story asked not to use their real names. “It’s hard to find that in my school. I use it pretty often, about once or twice a day, and I don’t tell my parents that I use it.”
“My mom doesn’t know I use Tinder, but I use it because it's less awkward talking to people online than it is in [person,]” said Lana from Lambert said.
“I got a Tinder because I was bored,” said Carl, a student at Forsyth Central. “I really only use it when I have nothing else to do. I meet friends and potential [partners] on there and I’ve met four of them in person. My parents do not know.”
Although dating websites have age restrictions – usually 18 and over – it is simple to get around that entering an older birth date. The barrier to entry is low for most dating websites – most are free and allow almost anyone to join.
Most are location-based, as well, meaning that the chances of meeting with a stranger are increased. Most apps also connect to social media accounts, which can give strangers and potential predators access to more personal information.
Jane, 17, was using Tinder when she matched with who she thought was a 17-year-old boy named Zach. The two began speaking and decided to meet up one summer afternoon.
When Jane arrived at the public location the two agreed on, she didn’t recognize anyone to be Zach until a man in his mid-20s who looked nothing like the boy in the photos approached her and said he was Zach.
Jane immediately called her mother to pick her up and never saw or spoke to the man again.
“It was so scary. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before,” Jane said. “I thought I knew Zach, but clearly I didn’t know anything about him. I was always told people online can lie about who they are but I never thought I would experience it for myself.”