I, like millions of other people around the world have been shocked and horrified this week by the senseless death of Grace Millane, the 22 yr old british backpacker murdered in Auckland, New Zealand. A beautiful young woman, recently graduated from university and now setting out on the adventure of a lifetime to see the world. Grace was just 9 months older than my own daughter and I am sure she left home filled with hopes, dreams & excitement for the adventures which lay ahead, and from what I have read in the media she was already having the time of her time.
If I have carried just one regret with me throughout my adult life it was not taking a Gap year when I was younger, it took me until the age of 47 to be able to live that dream and I have always admired younger people who have just thrown caution to the wind to realise their dreams and travel solo, knowing they will meet loads of new friends along the way. Grace Millane was not doing anything that 1000’s of other young people haven’t done before in setting off on her own to see the world. She not doing anything 1000’s of others haven’t done in using Tinder to meet new friends or potentially find a new relationship. Sadly however she paid the ultimate price for doing so. This tragedy was nothing to do with travelling solo however, this ‘could’ have happened closer to home, she could have gone out to meet an online date for the first time in her home town and tragically the story could have had exactly the same ending. THIS WAS NOT HER FAULT. Her life ended because of the evil actions of just one man, a man with whom she had already built up a rapport with online, and no doubt in agreeing to meet him she had already felt a good connection with him and felt an element of trust. I have seen the photos of her alleged killed published in British newspapers – he looks perfectly ‘normal’, a fairly good looking 26 year old man. There is nothing threatening, intimidating or suspicious about his appearance whatsoever. Why would she have initial cause for concern?
Online grooming however is a growing problem and whilst it is considered a crime to groom children under the age of 16 – the moment someone who is aged 16 and 1 day becomes a victim of grooming their abusers know it is no longer an offence and perpetrators will go on to re ‘offend’ over and over again.
Last year at the ripe old age of 47 I made a very similar mistake in using Tinder myself. I matched with (what I thought was) a very distinguished gentleman of 54 yrs old and very quickly built a fantastic rapport with him. Within days we were communicating constantly from the moment we woke until the moment we fell asleep. On paper I could not have met a more honourable man, a former naval commander who was still serving as a Naval Reservist. He had a high ranking job as head of Bridge Navigation for a Marine Simulation company out in Rotterdam. He was also a livery member and had recently been granted Freedom of the City of London. He was well groomed and well spoken….what wasn’t to trust???? I really thought I had fallen on my feet and I don’t mind admitting not only had I fallen head over heels for him, I was foolishly led to believe he felt the same about me. We were quickly talking and making plans for a long term future together. Him flying me out to Rotterdam to wine me and dine me was really just the icing on the cake, never once did I question that I may be in danger.
Here I have to cut a very long story short; because while this man was ‘who’ he said he was, he certainly wasn’t ‘what’ he said he was. He was not a single man looking for a long term relationship – he was a married man with a wife tucked away back in England. He was also a prolific online predator who was meticulously grooming women, and not one at a time but having several in circulation at once – all flying out to Rotterdam in rotation believing they were ‘the one’. This man was not simply after sex ….let’s face it, it was a only a 25 minute train ride to Amsterdams red light district if that was his only gratification! No, from what I have subsequently come to learn of this man he is a very clever but very dangerous psychopath who gets his kicks from totally messing with women’s minds and mental health (not to mention their sexual health). However the women he targets are not young, naive girls, but middle age, intelligent, successful and professional women. That is the kick for him – to break down and control the very strongest, independent women. (You can read my blog on that story here: Rape by Deception – Steve Window)
I NEVER believed at I could fall prey to such a man, but I did! At the the age of 47 I innocently jumped on a plane (alone) to fly to Rotterdam to meet this man for the first time. Despite some very emotionally challenging times which were to follow in the months to come, I am fortunate to still be here and tell my story. The ending for myself and for the other women he targeted ‘could’ have been very very different.
I tell my story now purely to highlight that it isn’t just the younger, naive girls that can be at risk with online dating. We ALL are vulnerable and at risk.
That said, if we allow these men stop us from living our lives to the full, or seeking adventure and love – then we also allow the small minority to have robbed so many of so much.
I hope that what has happened to Grace will not stop anyone from travelling, nor of travelling solo – there is a big world to see and so many new friends to be made. But let us all also use this experience to heighten our awareness and take all those additional precautions in staying safe, especially in the world of online dating. No longer is the ‘stranger danger’ talk only for young children.
If you are going out on a first date with someone you have met online;
– Arrange to meet in a public, well lit place.
– Tell someone where you are going, and also share your phone location for the evening with a trusted friend. This could be invaluable if your date suggests going on to an alternative location, going for a drive etc.
Keep your phone on your person at all times.
Let your friend know the profile of the person you are meeting, the dating site you have used and the phone number you have been using to communicate with your date. This could all be hugely important in tracing the person behind the profile in worst case scenario.
Be aware of the ASK FOR ANGELA campaign if you don’t feel safe with your date. This is a campaign set up by the Metropolitan Police in venues throughout London and gaining global attention. #askforangela
I am heartbroken to think how quickly Grace’s life came to an end, especially when her only mistake was to trust. She was looking for love, looking for someone to whom to give her heart to and to share her life with. I am devastated for her grief stricken family who have so cruelly had their beautiful daughter and sister ripped from them – their lives will never ever be the same again and to that end this one man has taken away so much more than just Graces life.
R.I.P Grace – J.M. Barrie’s character of the immortal young boy Peter Pan said “to die will be an awfully big adventure” so I hope that wherever you are now you will continue to find adventure, fulfilment and love in another world beyond our sight.