Gay Man Says He Was Tortured but Still Uses LGBTQ Dating App
- Holden White says he was tortured by a man he met on Grindr last year.
- White said that despite his traumatic ordeal, he still uses Grindr and other LGBTQ dating apps.
- Experts said that while people can take steps to stay safe, the apps could do more to protect users.
Warning: This story contains graphic details that readers might find distressing.
After chatting with a man on the gay dating app Grindr on and off for a year, Holden White, 18, decided to meet up with him in June 2020.
At first, he said, he didn’t notice any red flags. But the encounter quickly turned into hours of torture, he said.
White, a college student, said he agreed to be handcuffed by Chance Seneca, 19, because he was interested in trying something new. But then Seneca pulled out a loaded pistol, White said.
“He then began to strangle me, and that lasted for 30 to 40 minutes, to the point that every blood vessel in my face ruptured,” White said.
He said he lost consciousness and woke up naked in a bath with six stab wounds to his throat. In an affidavit, an FBI agent said White’s wrists were “slit to the bone.”
White fell into a coma and spent days intubated in a hospital.
He’s now suing Seneca at the state and federal levels. In March, Seneca was charged with hate-crime, firearm, and kidnapping offenses, the Department of Justice said. He’s also facing a charge of attempted murder and a hate-crime charge at the state level.
But while White seeks justice, he still frequently uses Grindr and other dating apps, he said.
“I use all the apps because I don’t blame them 100% for what happened to me,” he said during a video call.
Nowadays, White takes more precautions, he said.
“Since the incident, I don’t go to their home anymore,” he said. “I either meet them in public, or they come to my house, because I live in apartments and I have roommates, so it’s safer that way.”
He added that he hoped his experience would encourage others to use the apps vigilantly.
Several experts told Insider that while there are ways that people can use LGBTQ dating apps safely, apps like Grindr could be doing more to help mitigate risk for users.
Experts say dating apps could be more proactive in protecting users
There are numerous examples of violent attacks involving LGBTQ dating apps.
This week, an Oregon man accused of beating up a man he’d targeted on Grindr was charged with a hate crime, prosecutors said.
Last month, a man in Texas who used Grindr to lure and rob gay men was sentenced to 23 years in prison. A man in Jamaica who’d used a queer dating app to meet someone told the police that the person and two others set him on fire. In the UK, an inquest is investigating how Stephen Port, known as the “Grindr killer,” killed four men he met online.
There is “certainly the potential, risk, and fear” of these sorts of attacks, said Eli Coston, an assistant professor in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. They added that those who are “multiply marginalized” by being trans, a person of color, or working class, for example, were at particular risk.
But Coston said that these apps could also be a “really healthy, very helpful tool” for people to make connections and that the safety risks didn’t warrant a “moral panic.”
Coston said that while people using these apps should “understand the risks involved,” the apps could implement features to improve user safety, such as verifying all users’ identities within the app.
Grindr’s safety and privacy policies say users might be asked to verify their identity with a selfie or official government ID if their account is flagged for impersonation. Coston said that while verification in these instances is important, verifying users routinely would provide more protection.
“I think it’s important to point out that most dating apps don’t do this,” they said. “Even the option to verify your identity and add a badge to your profile so that users would know whether the person they are interacting with is verified or not would be helpful.”
Hornet and Tinder offer verification badges, whereas Grindr, Scruff, and Her, for example, do not.
Coston also recommended that dating apps make it easier to let a trusted person know of your whereabouts via a feature that shares your location with that person.
Grindr doesn’t include this feature, but it recommends in its safety tips that users let a “responsible” person know where they’re going.
“While advising users to share their location when meeting someone is important,” Coston said, “there are definitely ways that integration into the app itself would encourage users to be more proactive about doing so.”
Ian Holloway, an assistant professor of social welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Insider that he also thought Grindr could be taking further steps to protect users. He said that “stronger staffing” would help it more effectively vet profiles and monitor reports.
“There’s often very little vetting because of the sheer volume of guys using these apps,” he told Insider.
At the start of 2021, Grindr was said to have over 13 million active users worldwide. Grindr said in a blog post in March that it combined “complex software” with over 100 customer-support and content-moderation staffers — roughly one moderator per 130,000 users.
“There is not enough content moderation on these platforms,” Holloway said. “And there’s really nothing that I’ve seen that allows users to escalate a case where they can get to an actual person.”
An October 2020 report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation described allegations from people who’d used Grindr that its features were failing to protect users from sexual predators and harassment.
In a statement emailed to Insider, a Grindr spokesperson said: “To support our users’ well-being, Grindr publishes a Holistic Security Guide and Safety Tips available from within the Grindr App and on Grindr’s public website.
“Grindr encourages users to be careful when interacting with people they do not know, and to report improper or illegal behavior either within the app or directly via email to [email protected]. Users are encouraged to report criminal allegations to local authorities, and in these cases, we work directly with law enforcement as appropriate.”
Coston told Insider they didn’t think that went far enough.
“In my discussions about safety and dating apps with members of the LGBTQ+ community, many people have said that they would like additional safety features built directly into the apps,” they said.
How to stay safe on LGBTQ dating apps
People using dating apps can still take some simple steps to protect themselves, Callisto Adams, a dating and relationship expert with HeTexted, told Insider.
“Make sure that you know who the person behind that profile is before you meet them in person,” Adams said. “Have a video call or a voice call, and you can tell genuinely by the tone of voice, facial expressions, and willingness to spend time. You get to hear the person’s voice, the changes in their tonality. You can tell when they’re hesitant, enthusiastic, or secretive about a particular topic.”
White said there was one piece of advice he wished he’d known.
“Try to do some research on the person by looking for other profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, anything like that,” he said. “I had felt that I had enough trust for him, but I was mistaken.”