Online dating dangers highlighted after murders of two gay men

Photo courtesy of Councilmember Daniel Dromm’s Office

Two similar murders of gay men within the last few weeks have highlighted the dangers of online dating, particularly in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm, the New York Anti-Violence Project and other community leaders are now stressing safety to make sure that people get to know someone a little bit better before inviting them home, especially if they meet on the Internet.

“Online, things might appear better than they really are,” said Dromm. “But you don’t really know someone until you meet in person.”

According to police and published reports, a recent murder victim, David Rangel, a 53-year-old public school teacher who was found strangled under the couch of his Jackson Heights home on January 27, may have met his killer online.

On February 9,  Joseph Benzinger, a 54-year-old gay man from Middle Village, was found dead lying on the floor of an Elmhurst hotel, also strangled, with a shirt wrapped around his neck.

Last week, Benzinger’s alleged killer, a 23-year-old Manhattan man, Lleuyel Garcia, was arrested and charged with robbery in addition to murder. Authorities believe that Benzinger and Garcia may have had a prior sexual relationship, but it wasn’t clear if they met online.

In both cases there were no signs of forced entry.

Though police don’t believe that the two murders are connected, their circumstances are enough to cause concern for some.

“These recent tragic incidents show us that this is the time for our community to join together to recognize that we not only deserve safety, but that we can create it,” said Ejeris Dixon, deputy director in charge of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

According to Dromm, the Anti-Violence project has seen an uptick in LGBT dating violence.

“A lot of it comes from having hooked up with people online,” he said.

With the uptick in mind, Dromm felt it was important to make the LGBT community, as well as others, aware of online dating risks and how they can minimize them.

If you do decide to meet up with someone you were introduced to online, said Dromm, meet in a public place.

“Go to your favorite café and make sure the waiter sees who you are with. If you meet someone in a bar, let the bartender know who the person is,” he said. “Go to your favorite café and make sure the waiter sees who you are with.

“Nobody is ever 100 percent safe,” said Dromm. “But [these tips] can discourage somebody from taking advantage of another person.”