(CNN)David P. was a 42-year-old gay man living in Beveren, Belgium. He worked as a crane operator, was loved by his family and friends and, a few weeks ago, he was found dead in an abandoned park.
He was lured to his death in a secluded park. In a pandemic, dating can be deadly for LGBTQ+ people
Three youths aged between 16 and 17 have been arrested on suspicion of his murder.
David P., had gone to the park after arranging a date with a man he met on the gay dating app Grindr. But when he arrived, he was ambushed and brutally attacked, according to CNN affiliates VTM, RTBF and RTL Belgium.
Belgian police and the local public prosecutors' office have yet to confirm or deny if the killing was motivated by homophobia, but the case highlights the fact that for LGBTQ+ people, searching for a romantic connection online right now can put you in serious danger.
David P.'s case is not an isolated incident. A US teen was recently charged with a hate crime after violently attacking a man he'd met on Grindr. In Ireland, a teenager was put on probation after he admitted assaulting and attempting to rob a man he'd been chatting to on Grindr under false pretences.
And homophobic hate crimes are on the rise. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA's) Annual Review of LGBTQ+ rights in Europe, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people in the Netherlands were reported by Dutch media almost every week in 2020. In France, SOS Homophobie's annual report found that the number of hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people had increased for a fourth consecutive year in 2020.
Many are feeling vulnerable, and there are fears that homophobic assailants may be taking advantage of the fact that queer dating apps are one of the only opportunities LGBTQ+ individuals can use to meet others right now.
Since lockdowns were imposed around the world when the pandemic took hold early last year, apps such as Grindr, Scruff and Her have have taken on a greater role in the LGBTQ+ community, as traditionally safe public LGBTQ+ spaces, such as gay bars, clubs and pubs, were forced to shut their doors.
ILGA points out in its State-Sponsored Homophobia report that LGBTQ+ people have found themselves adrift during the pandemic: "Lockdowns meant the abrupt and complete interruption of activities, gatherings became impossible, events and Prides got suspended, and safe spaces dramatically shrunk overnight with extremely little to no notice."
Grindr said it was "deeply saddened" by the murder of David P. "This is a tragic and disturbing reminder of the hatred and violence faced by all-too-many people in the LGBTQ+ community, despite the many advances across the world. We stand ready to assist local authorities with their investigation of this matter," the company said in a statement to CNN.
But while the app has said it is committed to supporting the safety and security of its community, all it currently offers users is a holistic security guide.
Christian, 25, lives in Cardiff, Wales, and has been using online queer platforms since the pandemic began. Like many, he is mourning the loss of places that have always provided connection and security for LGBTQ+ people.
"Dating apps have barely filled the hole that the absence of queer spaces during the pandemic has left," he said.
When it comes to the question of safety for LGBTQ+ individuals engaging in online dating, Christian, who asked CNN not to use his last name to protect his privacy, says he's lucky to live in a city where queerness is largely accepted, and where he hasn't experienced too much hostility -- but says he's been in uncomfortable scenarios, too.
"I've been in some situations where I've found myself meeting with someone who doesn't look like their picture, and not felt empowered to leave that situation," Christian said. "I feel we need more open conversations about these experiences, so we can better develop a dialogue and safety protocols for when we do meet with people online."
With dating apps one of few available avenues for LGBTQ+ people to meet potential sexual and romantic partners during the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear just how few safeguards are in place to protect users.
Some platforms are beginning to put more measures in place to build a safer environment. Tinder recently announced it would introduce background checks to vet matches and provide greater safety for users by revealing any previous records of harassment, violence or abuse. Grindr has yet to say if it will do the same.
Dating apps have been facing calls to provide more safeguards for years.