Basil Lucas, a bias-crime counselor for the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, documented 648 pickup crimes involving gay men in New York from 1995 to 2001. Only 19 of them were Internet related. But Lucas thinks that figure may be "just the tip of the iceberg," since a number of these victims don't inform the police. "The more folks get computers in their homes," Lucas says, "the more we see incidents of crime."
Lucas says gay men victimized by online predators are less likely than women to complain, especially if they are closeted. But police say it's important for gay men to come forward when they are assaulted or robbed. "That's the only way we can investigate," says Detective Walter Burnes. As for those who feel their privacy will be sacrificed if they come forward, Burnes says, "we're not going to run around and tell people what's going on in your personal life."
America Online spokesperson Nicholas Graham echoes these points. "It's very critical to report these incidents to law enforcement and to AOL in a timely fashion," he says. Members can request help by typing in keywords Notify AOLor I Need Help. Graham says the company strikes "a relevant and practical balance between privacy and security." AOL reports information of a possible crime to the police, but the details are "only shared between our servers and the specific law-enforcement person investigating the matter."
"This is a new phenomenon," Lucas says of Internet crimes against gays. "We're streamlining the way we track it." Meanwhile, experts say that gay men should take special precautions when meeting partners online, because of the anonymity this medium affords. Pictures can be faked and identities can be fabricated. So Lucas offers these tips for gay men cruising online: Meet in a public place, perhaps with a friend in tow; avoid going home with the person on the first date; give friends the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the people you're meeting; and type memos to yourself in your computer listing everything you know about the person, including copies of your online communication.