Three online dating services have agreed to start screening its member profiles for registered sex offenders after a California woman was assaulted by a man she met through Match.com.

The dating service is joined by eHarmony and Spark Networks in a non-binding agreement with the state attorney general to make their sites safer for users. They plan to give members safety tips, provide a direct line to reporting abuses by other members, and check subscribers against national sex offender registries. The companies say that they hope other sites will join them in these measures, but will they be effective?

The most universal perception of online dating is that the sites are full of weirdos. This is at least partially true; if you’ve been registered on any of them and haven’t attracted anyone who seems like he or she is from another planet then I truly commend you.

But harm at the hands of a relative stranger is a serious concern for women looking for companionship online. Measures like making sure to meet in a public place and not allowing him to know where you live are great first date protections, but there’s still always going to be a slight fear that the seemingly charming guy you met online could do anything from follow you home to chop you up in little pieces. For the record, the woman whose assault led to this change in policy settled a lawsuit with Match.com after a man she met on the site followed her home after their second date and sexually assaulted her. He was not a registered sex offender but is now.

Is the risk of online dating really reduced if sites will take measures to encourage safer connections? Do you worry about your safety when dating online?

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