OUT, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) health and well-being group in Pretoria, has launched a campaign to alert men who have sex with men (MSM) about the dangers of casual sex dates with strangers.
The campaign has been launched in response to the murder of at least seven gay men over the past two years in the Gauteng region.
The killings remain unsolved and they share striking similarities in that the men were all murdered in private homes and little or nothing was stolen. There is some suspicion that at least some of the men may have met their attackers through online dating sites.
"Sex between men has long been frowned upon by our society," explains OUT Director Dawie Nel. "That's led many gay, bi and other MSM to keep their sexual relations hidden from sight, hence the growth of online dating within the gay community. And there's no doubt that there is some element of excitement in the unknown."
"However," adds Nel, "people need to be aware that there is a risk in meeting strangers and especially when inviting them into their homes. These risks include the possibility of being blackmailed, being targeted with false charges, theft and even being murdered".
The campaign consists of articles that will be published in gay media, web banners, venue posters and other communication aimed at the LGBT community, highlighting the risks of casual sex dates.
Tips include: first meeting a date in a public place; making sure someone knows when you go out to meet a date; being wary of inviting strangers to your home; avoiding people who are deceitful and ask for financial support; and, if you meet someone at a club, introducing him to a friend before leaving with the date.
Nel expressed his concern at the apparent limited success of the police in investigating the murders and said that OUT is in discussion with pro-bono lawyers in a bid to pressure the authorities to take action.
"There is a perception that there is a lack of interest in the cases, in part due to the sexual orientation of the victims. Added to this, the investigating officers may have limited knowledge or awareness of the LGBT community and online dating," said Nel. "We fear that someone is preying on gay men and the authorities appear unwilling to acknowledge this."
To-date, gay lifestyle website Mambaonline.com, dating site MeetMarket.com and the LGBT newspaper Exit have committed to taking part in the campaign, but other LGBT media are being approached to be included.
The most recent murder was of 39-year-old HIV/Aids activist and television presenter Jason Wessenaar, who was stabbed in the neck seven times in his Pretoria West home on 18 December 2011.
The murder spree began with Manolis Veloudos, who was killed in April 2010. He was followed by Jim Cathels in Berea in December 2010, Oscar O'Hara (33) in May 2011, a 47-year-old un-named landlord in Northcliff in August 2011, Siphiwe Selby Nhlapo (36) in Soweto in September 2011, and Barney van Heerden (39) in Orange Grove, also in September 2011.
Despite the similarities in the crimes, the police have rejected the theory that the same killer or killers are involved. No suspects have yet been arrested.