ELAINE PARKER, FOUNDER OF SAFER DATE, THE SAFEST DATING APP IN THE WORLD
Elaine Parker is a woman on a mission. A survivor of horrific domestic abuse at the hands of a prolific predator, allowed to offend time and time again thanks to an unregulated $4.2 bn industry, this trailblazing entrepreneur is being the change she wants to see in the world - on every level.
Rarely have I met a woman so heavily invested in pursuing her passion, relentless in her mission and dedicated to her cause; this powerhouse is set to revolutionise the world of online dating, and it can't come soon enough. Elaine's journey to the woman you see on these pages was not easy nor linear, far from it. When you meet with her, she's stunningly candid, with more than a touch of humour and a vibrancy that leaves you no doubt that you are in the presence of something extraordinary.
It's safe to say Elaine Parker is a name you'll hear a lot more of in the future. Mark my words. This woman is going to change the world.
SO, ELAINE, WHAT'S YOUR STORY?
I feel my whole life has been about resilience and getting back up after I've been knocked down! I have had many health issues to battle, divorce, being a single parent and living on a shoestring, and I lost my Dad 7 years ago, which hit me hard. Throughout my career, I've worked my way up through businesses and have put up with some pretty horrible bosses (as many of us unfortunately have). I always seemed to fall into roles working in all-male environments, and up until 2017, I predominantly worked for IT and software development companies.
Following redundancy in 2017, I decided to take the plunge and start my own business, Exaltis Solutions, to use my web development, marketing and business skills to help other small businesses succeed. I loved it and thought this would be my lifelong career until I started Safer Date.
Safer Date was born from a very personal, horrendous, traumatic experience. My life changed course after I met someone on the well-known online dating platform Plenty of Fish. At the time, I was very naïve and thought there were legal standards for the online dating industry. I sadly learned just how wrong I was to assume this.
The man I met seemed perfect; he moved in with my son and I and we got engaged. However, on the night of our engagement party, reality crashed through. He switched. The domestic abuse started that night and advanced to sexual assault and rape. It took me a long time to get him out of the house, and the stalking and harassment started when I did. It culminated with him breaking into my house, pinning me against the wall. I feared for my life.
When the police got involved, I discovered this man was very well known to them, with an extensive history of domestic abuse and violence against women and children. He was using dating sites to find his victims.
I found the courage to stand up to my abuser, took him to court, and he is now in prison for what he did to me. But the problem remains that when he is released next year (which is looming far too quickly), despite being on the sex offenders register for life, there is nothing to stop him from going straight back to dating online. This was a terrible realisation, and I discovered that my story is a drop in the ocean of the broader problem of the crimes that happen on online dating apps.
When I realised it (shockingly) didn't exist already, I decided to start a new online dating platform to protect people. I don't want anyone to go through what I had to endure, and as there are no legal standards or regulations for the dating industry, I decided to make a stand and be the change.
IT IS OFTEN ASSUMED THAT DATING SITES AND APPS ARE RESPONSIBLE TO THEIR USERS FOR ENSURING CHECKS ARE IN PLACE TO KEEP THEM SAFE, BUT THIS ISN'T THE CASE. IN WHAT WAY DOES SAFER DATE INTEND TO REVOLUTIONISE THE MARKET AS THE SAFEST DATING APP IN THE WORLD?
Safer Date offers online dating with intelligence through innovative features. All users are identified in real-time, meaning our app has no fake profiles, catfish or scam accounts. We also offer the most thorough global criminal background checks possible. In addition to our safety features, we also tackle many other issues found on other dating apps.
Unlike other dating apps, we do not use chatbots to send fake messages to encourage people to pay. We don't allow bombardment by unwanted messages, we filter out obscene language and images before they reach our customers, and we have a graceful goodbye feature to tackle ghosting. We intend to pave the way to a much better way for people to meet online where customer well-being and safety are always at the forefront.
WHY DO YOU THINK OTHER DATING APPS AND SITES HAVEN'T TAKEN THIS MATTER INTO HAND YET? ESPECIALLY AS PUBLIC ATTENTION TURNS TO THE ISSUE AS DOCUMENTARIES SUCH AS NETFLIX'S TINDER SWINDLER' COME TO LIGHT.
The online dating industry turned over £290m in the UK alone last year. It is a colossal industry which is entirely unregulated, and these companies are making millions despite the negative press. Quite simply, there is nothing to force them to change, so they don't bother.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE CRITICISM?
That's a good question! I'm absolutely open to receiving criticism. I am on a very clear mission and have a great deal of business knowledge, but I don't know everything and will always have more to learn. If someone voices their criticism, I like to listen to them, discuss it and understand the reasons behind their opinion. Sometimes I agree, and sometimes I don't. It's all part of the business journey.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK?
Helping people and making a difference! My story is just one of so many - and it isn't the worst example of online dating crimes. Safer Date is designed to protect people proactively.
Making Safer Date a success so that people are educated on the dangers of online dating, and so they know they have a safer option is now my life's mission.
I'm also working with a local university and The Freedom Programme too, using my experience to help others. Helping other victims to see that there is a way out and that there is a life after the abuse is something I'm very passionate about.
CREATING SAFER DATE HAS BEEN A PERSONAL JOURNEY OF TACKLING THE DARK SIDE OF THE ONLINE DATING INDUSTRY. RELIVING YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE AND BECOMING AN ENTREPRENEUR AND PUBLIC FIGURE CAN'T HAVE BEEN EASY. HOW HAVE YOU LOOKED AFTER YOUR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WELL-BEING DURING THE PROCESS?
In short - no - but I recognise that and I am trying. At first, it was extremely difficult to talk about what happened to me because I still felt embarrassed and ashamed and because it brought back memories and nightmares that I kept trying to suppress.
Now, I have absolutely no issues talking about what happened to me. Sometimes I will get upset when I speak about it, but that's ok. I know I have no reason to feel ashamed, and I want others to know that too so we can remove the stigma. I am also turning a horrendous experience into something positive to protect people, which really helps.
Unfortunately, my physical and mental health has suffered due to my experience plus working 100+ hour weeks to get Safer Date to market. I am now making changes to improve this through diet, exercise, and reducing my wine intake (which I think may be the toughest!), and I am speaking to a life coach weekly too.
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND DIFFICULT ON YOUR JOURNEY, AND WHAT WOULD YOU AVOID IF YOU COULD DO IT ALL AGAIN?
I read this question and sighed very heavily. The most challenging part of the business journey has definitely been raising investment. It is a very tough thing to navigate - especially in a male-dominated sector - but unfortunately, it can't be avoided, and it's just part of the crazy rollercoaster we must go through.
On a personal level, finding the courage to stand up to my attacker was one of the most challenging things I have had to do. It took two years to get to court - and during that time, he was free to do whatever he wanted. He was actually stalking me and also, bragging online about being back on dating apps. The court process was also arduous, but if I could go back I would still go through the process. I found the strength to stand up to him and got my control back. I still can't believe he gets out of prison next year. That is something that truly fills me with dread.
YOU HAVE RECENTLY BEEN NOMINATED FOR VARIOUS AWARDS, INCLUDING FINALIST IN THE WIN (WOMEN INSPIRING NORTH EAST) AWARDS AS ROLE MODEL OF THE YEAR, INNOVATION AND WOMAN IN STEM BUSINESS. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE RECOGNISED FOR YOUR HARD WORK IN SUCH A WAY?
It feels incredible. What I am doing is very much needed across the world, and it is a huge task to take on, but to be recognised for all the hard work makes such a difference to me and means so much.
I am a finalist for six awards so far this year, and I have just found out I’ve been nominated for three Northern Power Women Awards too! This really inspires me and helps me to stay focused when the entrepreneurial journey gets too tough. Hopefully, it will also inspire other victims of abuse to go after their dreams.
WHAT’S YOUR TOP TIP FOR OTHER ENTREPRENEURS AND BUSINESS OWNERS READING THIS ARTICLE?
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Running your own business can be incredibly difficult and even lonely, but you don't have to do this on your own. Talk to other business owners, join accelerator groups, and networking events to make connections. If you're struggling - talk about it. I can guarantee that other business owners have gone through exactly what you are going through now, and they can help you get back on track.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s the opposite, and you’ll find that your local business community will be happy to help and support you on your journey – helping you through the hard times and celebrating all your wins too.
WHICH MOTIVATIONAL SONG WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO ADD TO THE FEMALE CEO'S #GIRLBOSS PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY FOR YOU?
Sia - Unstoppable (I love this track!)
DO YOU HAVE A BOOK OR FAVOURITE PODCAST RECOMMENDATION FOR OUR FEMALE CEO MEMBERS?
I absolutely love reading crime novels to switch my brain off from work. The best one I've read lately is The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell.
INTIMIDATION CAN BE A REAL ISSUE FOR WOMEN IN ONLINE DATING, ESPECIALLY WHEN BOMBARDED WITH MESSAGES. HOW IS SAFER DATE TACKLING THE ISSUE AS WELL AS THAT OF 'GHOSTING'?
Being bombarded with messages can be incredibly daunting and annoying, but we have taken all of that away. If you have not mutually matched with someone, they can only send you one message request, which you can accept or ignore. We also filter out all obscene images (we all know what I mean) and any obscene messages before they reach you.
Ghosting is also a big issue that can leave people feeling very upset and can really knock your confidence. This happens when people have been chatting online for a while, and then one of them just stops talking for no reason at all - they just disappear. We have introduced a unique graceful goodbye feature to help close down conversations politely to tackle this issue.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW FOR SURE?
Whatever happens with Safer Date, I know I have achieved so much and have made people think. The dating industry has to change, and it all starts with us.
WHAT'S YOUR SUPERPOWER?
My resilience, I think. Life has knocked me around a lot, but I always come back fighting.
WHO OR WHAT ARE YOU MOST GRATEFUL FOR?
I'm so grateful for my friends and family, and I am fortunate to have the most amazing Mam who sticks by me no matter what and is always there for me. She is truly amazing, and I'd be completely lost without her.
WHAT MAKES YOU TRULY HAPPY?
I've definitely neglected my own happiness over the last few years, and I know I need to do something about it. Seeing my friends and family happy and enjoying life makes me happy, but on a personal level, the last time I was happiest was when I was on holiday in Crete, my favourite place in the world, soaking up the local culture without a phone, smart watch or laptop in sight. I think it's probably the last time I truly relaxed too!