A 52-year-old man from New Jersey says he accidentally had gay sex with a 13-year-old boy and now that he is facing a possible 20 years behind bars, he’s suing Grindr, a popular smartphone app for gay men looking for casual sex.
Grindr calls itself a social network for gay men, that uses geolocation technology to allow men to search for other gay men in their nearby communities. Advertised as an app for chatting and socializing, Grindr’s best known use is for casual, sexual “hookups.”
But William Saporano Jr., of Cape May, New Jersey, says that his three-way Grindr hookup went terribly wrong and now he wants the company to pay.
Here’s what happened, according to Saporano’s lawsuit: about two years ago, June 21, 2012 to be exact, Saporano got a message asking him to join two other men he met through the Grindr app for a three-way sex romp. So that’s exactly what Saporano did, hosting the raunchy soiree at his Cape May home.
But a week later, he got some bad news. One of the other men, who Saporano thought was 18 years old and therefore legally permitted to engage in consensual sex acts with with other adults, was in fact 13-years old.
About a month later, Saporano and another man, 24-year-old Mark Lemunyon, also of Cape May, were arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child.
Crimes involving sex with underage children are considered “strict liability” offenses, which means that believing a sexual partner to be of legal age is no excuse under the law if in fact that person is a minor.
Saporano says in the suit that he didn’t bother to check the age of the boy, believing that because the boy was a registered Grindr user, he must be 18 — the minimum age required by Grindr to sign up.
Saporano alleges that Grindr was negligent because its employees failed to spot the fake age entry for the boy. He says in the suit that he got arrested thanks to the alleged incompetence of the Grindr employees and has been forced to neglect the construction business he owns as he tries to fight the underage sex charges against him.
In addition to damages for what Saporano says is his lost income, he also says that Grindr’s negligence caused him emotional distress, in effect tricking him into having sex with a 13-year-old male.
But the Los Angeles-based Grindr, which in August asked a judge to throw the lawsuit out of court, says that its terms of service clearly state that its users might be lying about their ages, and if they do, it’s not the company’s responsibility.
Grindr also says that Saporano is not even a Grindr member, and therefore, the company isn’t responsible for whether he feels emotionally distressed or not.
In 2011, a federal judge ruled that online sites can’t be expected to actually check the ages of their users, a ruling which Grindr also cites in its own defense.