A CENTRAL Victorian advocate is concerned predators are using smartphone dating apps to perpetrate sexual assault, harassment and intimidation in the region.
Victoria Police has urged anyone with experiences such as these to report this behaviour to police, to allow for investigations.
Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria chief executive Kate Wright said apps were being used in a targeted and planned way by perpetrators of multiple sexual offences, including stalking and harassment.
She said CASA knew sexual violence was regularly taking place through connections made on the app, predominantly towards young women, perpetrated by men.
Ms Wright said usually the behaviour was a total disregard for consent.
It was hard to quantify the scale of the problem, because this type of sexual assault was extremely under-reported to both CASA and Victoria Police, she said.
Ms Wright attributed this in part to victim-blaming or judgment from the community towards users of dating apps such as Tinder.
She urged anyone who had experienced behaviour such as assault, harassment or stalking to call the police and contact CASA for support and legal and medical advocacy.
Contact Victoria Police using Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or Bendigo Police on 5448 1300.
Sexual Crimes Squad officer in charge Detective Inspector Juliann Goldrick said police believed sexual assault was under-reported, for a range of reasons, such as feelings of fear or embarrassment.
She said sometimes people were unsure if an offence had occurred, or whether they would be believed.
Detective Inspector Goldrick said Victoria Police was committed to investing such matters.
"I cannot stress enough that it is never the victim's responsibility to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to investigate a sexual offence or solve a crime," she said.
"While a victim may believe there may be limitations to proving the identity of an alleged perpetrator, police have a number of methods to identify suspects and we have specialist investigators who do this successfully.
"I think it's crucial that victims understand that reporting to the dating app is not reporting to police, and so we encourage people to speak to us when they have been subject to concerning behaviour."
Detective Inspector Goldrick said even if someone decided they did not want to make a formal report, police could still help them connect with medical services or counselling.
Victoria Police advises people to consider a safety plan when meeting a stranger for any reason, such as choosing a location with lots of people around, meeting during daylight hours, and sharing your location with friends.
The organisations said while dating app users could take steps to minimise their risk, the responsibility was always on the perpetrator of those crimes, and never the fault of the victim.
- Call CASA on 5441 0430 for support during business hours
- Call Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1800 806 292 at all other times.
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.