The Misguided Crusade Against Match.com

Carole Markin has revealed herself as the woman who sued Match.com, ultimately forcing them to screen new members against the national sex offender registry. Her decision to go public is a brave one — but could her crusade be a mistake?

On Good Morning America, Markin said she decided to reveal her identity — she was previously referred to only as Jane Doe — because "I'm tired of hiding behind masks and glasses. I want to come forward and speak for the other Jane Does and Joe Blows who have been abused by sexual predators and give them courage to do something for themselves." And her campaign has become quite high-profile — a press release issued on her behalf by PR firm Media Giants says she's been "hailed widely as the 'Erin Brockovich of Online Dating.'" In speaking publicly about her assault by a sex offender she met on Match, Markin sends a powerful message that being the victim of such a crime isn't shameful, and that survivors don't have to keep silent. She also provides an important warning to anyone dating online or off. Her advice: "try to get as much information you can, without being too neurotic." Hopefully her words will help daters protect themselves, and also remind law enforcement of the need to gauge more accurately whether criminals will reoffend before releasing them.

But the result of her lawsuit — Match's decision to screen all new members for previous sex offenses — raises some questions. I previously opined that screening for sex offenders would be "good for Match's bottom line" — and that may well have influenced their decision. Writes Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory, "you [...] can't overstate the P.R. liability of being in any way associated with sex offenders." Clark-Flory also questions the wisdom of Match's move:

The truth is that a record only tells you so much. It's unlikely, but a charge of possessing child pornography could stem from something as minor as a high school "sexting" incident. Besides, we already make it hard enough for offenders to reenter society, and further ostracizing them only encourages recidivism.

She adds, "It isn't just the sex offender checks that are faulty; remember that domestic abusers, murderers and all other fun flavor of criminal are still welcome to join."

I spoke with Markin by phone today, and she told me that while she hoped Match would extend its screening process to state and local, as well as federal sex offender registries, she wasn't interested in trying to make them screen for other crimes. She also said that the "Erin Brockovich of Online Dating" moniker was one bestowed on her by friends and "people in the industry," not media outlets. It's a bit misleading — Erin Brockovich took on a big company that was allegedly poisoning people, while Match's role in Markin's assault was more indirect. Screening for sex offenders might have kept her from going on a date with the man who attacked her, but it wouldn't have kept this man from attacking women he met in other ways. Clark-Flory writes that the push to screen "isn't about politics, philosophy or rationality — as is so often the case with sex offenders, it's about making everyone else feel safe." Since women need to feel safe in order to sign up for online dating, Match's decision may be smart from a business perspective. But if we want to improve people's actual safety, we may need to look at more effectively prosecuting and preventing sex crimes — and not at limiting people's freedoms once they're released.

Carole Markin Reveals Herself As The Jane Doe In The Match.com Civil Suit [CNBC]
Match.com Bans Sex Offenders — Feel Safe Now? [Salon]
Why Match.com Shouldn't Screen Members [Salon]