By Tabitha Purslow
If you have been on social media lately you may have noticed the frenzy surrounding the new Netflix documentary ‘The Tinder Swindler’. The story of the man who managed to hustle over an estimated $10 million, from women he emotionally manipulated, with his charm and staggering fortune. Simon Leviev, The Tinder Swindler, a title given to him in the exposé article written in 2019 by Norwegian paper VG, is an Israeli con-artist, who through tinder matches, paid for single women to go with him on expensive trips around Europe. Once he had sufficiently convinced the women of his wealth he would claim he had been attacked, and was being chased by his enemies, leading to his bank accounts being frozen. These women innocently took out large sums of money to help him fund his business endeavours, however failing to pay them back and swindling them into debt.
Despite the cruel and heartless intentions of Simon Leviev (whatever his real name is), much of the media and attention surrounding the women who were previously entangled with him has suggested that they are the ones to blame for trusting a man who had so callously manipulated them. The shock and horror of many on social media and their attitudes towards these women has emphasised the issue of victim-blaming culture, but also the sexist divide of women painted as lacking intelligence, while Simon Leviev is considered a mere innovative conman.
Victim-blaming is a concept originating from a 1971 book by William Ryan which focussed on the social injustice and racism faced by African Americans, describing the concept as when the victim is blamed for their own action crime and are considered responsible for the misdoings against them.
The term has been widely expanded since then, notably in terms of women and sexual assault.A common narrative seen in the past few years, particularly since the rise of the me -too movement, has been the dismissal of female victims and the use of victim-blaming to discredit their accusations and experience of assault. This blame culture has also resurfaced in recent years in the UK with discussions around women’s safety after the tragic death of Sarah Everard, with even the Conservative Police Commissioner encouraging women to be ‘street-wise’. Women have been assumed responsible for their own suffering, a concept that relates to the prevalence of male privilege which exists within the current system. And the Tinder Swindler is no exception to this.
Psychologists say that research into the logic of ‘victim blaming’ relates back to how a victim is depicted in any given incident. In a study by Niemi & Young (2016), who investigated societal ideas of victim-blaming, it was found that if the action of assault starts with the victim being the main subject in the sentence, it can lead to the victim being perceived as placing themselves in that given situation. This would be partly relatable to the Netflix documentary on the Tinder Swindler, which focuses on the stories of the manipulated women first and foremost, which could be assumed to suggest that they were in control of the situation. It was their choice to ‘swipe right’, they agreed to go on a date with him, their actions emphasise their own fault and that they ‘should have known better’ in that sense. However, this is not the reality. The psychology of how victim-blaming works can demonstrate the criticism these women faced. In many of the opinions on the dangerous ends of twitter and instagram, the Swindler was called ‘clever’ and ‘smart’, while the women were referred to as ‘stupid’ and ‘gold-diggers’. These disparities further highlight the sexist attitudes of the public. Especially the ‘gold-digger’ phrase given to the women who were taking out hefty sums, as if their ‘gold-digger’ ways meant they deserved it.
The reality for these women is that they are victims of a crime. Despite criticism, and given the situation and the information provided to them, it is understandable that they would have made those particular choices. As they realised that they had been lied to they took the actions upon themselves to make the change. The master manipulator is not a strong enough nickname for the man who emotionally destroyed women’s financial lives and their romantic trust for years to come.
The tinder swindler is still out there. Despite being blocked from most dating apps and removed from some social media, he still has a presence on TikTok, and has recently been signed with a Hollywood agent. His mere 5-month prison sentence cannot even account for the financial and social detriment he has caused the women he swindled.
The wider issue of sexism and women not being listened to goes beyond the glamour and manipulation of the tinder swindler. Many women face serious threats against them in cases of victim-blaming, and it can mean they fear speaking out when things do happen to them. It is highly possible that other women have had money stolen from them by the tinder swindler, but due to the backlash against the women involved, they will fear speaking out. If women are not speaking up then.the power and problems they suffer do not get tackled. These women manipulated by the swindler may have had a huge financial weight to deal with, but they also face the burden of the cruel public who sees them as naive and shallow. And the weight of society’s perception can last much longer than debt.
Whatever happens to Simon Leviev, we can only hope he will get the karma he deserves and that society will treat him with the same disdain and respect that his victims have so unfairly received.