People who come to us have not usually been to the police.” READ MORE: Conviction rate for rape cases in West Yorkshire is one of lowest in country Her colleague, Laura Edwards, a volunteer member of the group’s management committee, added: “Online dating can make people feel embarrassed and they want to keep it secret, which can be very dangerous - if they are not telling people where they are going, for instance.
While the numbers of rapes following online dating is relatively small - 184 reported in 2014 compared to 33 in 2009 - the NCA says many more go unreported.
It estimates that only 17% are ever brought to the attention of the police.
However, Heather Cooper, service director for the Kirklees Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre, believes the number of ‘hidden’ offences could be even greater.
She explained: “The general trend with rapes is that there are ten times more that don’t get reported.
The rise in online dating has created a new type of predatory sexual offender.
According to the National Crime Agency’s Serious Crime Analysis Section, such offenders have the opportunity to groom their victims online and will often attempt a sexual assault at the first face-to-face meeting.
In a report, published this month, the agency points out that one in three relationships now start online.
The Online Dating Association has more than 7m registered users and expects the number of sites to continue growing, providing potentially rich pickings for offenders.
Teenagers also represented around 25% of the victims.
In more than half the cases, online communication had included sexual references and in 43% the first face-to-face meeting took place within just one week of an initial online ‘meeting’.
Ultimately, 72% of offences were committed at the victim’s or offender’s home.