Apps used to battle dangers of online dating

At first it seemed to be just a house fire in the 5700 block of Highgate Drive in Northwest Baltimore.

Once inside though, Baltimore City Fire had to call police.

Detectives say the body of 32-year-old Jennifer Conyers was discovered in the basement. She was tied up with speaker and computer wire...murdered.

Police say the suspect was somebody she knew, Monte Carter, a man she previously met on an online dating website.

Conyers' story won't be the last, nor is it the first.

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In 2005, UMBC student John Gaumer was convicted for the first-degree murder of a single mother he met on Myspace.

Gaumer beat the woman to death and left her body near the I-95/I-695 interchange after chatting with her just hours earlier on the social-networking site.

The trial got a lot of publicity in 2007 and grabbed the attention of the public and medical professionals alike.

"That trial really focused my attention on the social media and what can happen and how quickly it can happen," says Linda Kelly. "This was an instantaneous moment that they talked one night, had a date the next and she was dead."     

Linda Kelly is a forensic nurse at GBMC and in charge of its SAFE program, a service educating and counseling women about sexual assault and safe dating.

The Gaumer crime changed the game, she says...and the way she educates and counsels.

"You know there used to be more safety nets for young people as they were beginning their social lives and entering into relationships. Now with electronic media and social media, those safety nets don't exist anymore.  It's instant now.  Absolutely instant."

So Kelly now talks to groups of 16 to 24-year-olds, warning them about the dangers of online dating

Part of that education is how to avoid becoming a victim; meet in a public place, avoid alcohol on the date and let your friends know where you'll be.

Kelly is also fighting technology with technology -- a favorite app she suggests is called the "Circle of 6."

It works by letting you program six of your closest friends or family into the screen, and you can contact them with one touch. It will tell them to call for a much needed interruption on a shady date or tell your friends you need a ride immediately and automatically send your location via gps.

"Relationship violence is so prevalent in the 16 to 24-year-old demo, but people don't really understand what relationship violence is," said Katy Sandusky with the One Love Foundation

Education is also the primary focus of the One Love Foundation .

The non-profit set up by the mother of Yeardley Love, the UVA lacrosse star murdered by her boyfriend, is also taking a digital approach to safe dating and sexual assault prevention.

Just last September One Love debuted its app called "One Love Life," an anonymous quiz women can take to determine if they are in a threatening relationship.

The foundation says the app has been downloaded 25,000 times already and consistently receives feedback from users and their families.

"Absolutely and weekly we get emails, Facebook messages and letters talking about how this app helped them get out of the situations they've been in," Sandusky said.

Those situations, in some cases, driven by technology...and now being fought with it as well.

 

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