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Proving sexual consent? There's an app for that

Well, there may not actually be an app for that yet, but if one Australian police official has his way, there may be soon. And if so, I wouldn’t be shocked if it caught on in other parts of the world. The proposal in question is an app that people could install on their phones that would allow prospective lovers to enter their ongoing consent to a sexual encounter, keeping a record of such consent (or the lack thereof) in case the information was needed as evidence in a subsequent sexual assault investigation. The proposal was made as part of a possible approach to help improve conviction rates in New South Wales, where convictions in sexual assault cases are only running at 2% of all reported incidents. And since kids these days are doing everything else with their phones, why not, right? (Associated Press)

A senior Australian policeman suggested on Thursday a phone app be developed to document sexual consent in a bid to improve conviction rates in sex crime cases.

New South Wales state Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said dating apps have brought couples together and the same technology could also provide clarity on the question of consent.

“Technology doesn’t fix everything, but … it plays such a big role in people meeting at the moment. I’m just suggesting: is it part of the solution?” Fuller said.

The police commissioner is describing the proposed system as being one that could help obtain more convictions in sexual assault cases. But it immediately occurred to me that such an app could be equally useful in shutting down false accusations in these sorts of cases. After all, if someone wakes up with some regrets the morning after a one-night stand that they fully consented to, it’s going to be hard to get the police to press forward if there’s a digital record of the consent being granted.

Of course, there are some obvious shortcomings to this proposal. First of all, both parties would have to have the app installed on their phones prior to the romantic encounter or it wouldn’t work. That may seem like a minor detail, but try to picture yourself out at a bar on a first date and interrupting the conversation at some point to say, hey, would you mind installing this sexual consent app on your phone if you don’t already have it? It just feels like that could really dampen the mood for some people.

On a related subject, one professor from the University of South Australia thought that young lovers might not be interested. She’s quoted as saying, “I don’t think they’re going to interrupt the romance to put details into an app.”

That’s a fair point. We’ve discussed many of the same issues back when there was an ongoing debate over the ridiculous “affirmative consent” theory and the canceling of Aziz Ansari in 2015. Nothing sets the mood when a date moves into the heavy petting stage like stopping every 45 seconds to say, do you consent to me kissing you? Do you consent to me touching your knee? Do you consent to me undoing one of the buttons on your blouse?

Now take that to the next level and imagine each one of those questions being followed by a pause to take out your phones and each enter a record of that stage of the romantic encounter. Global birth rates are already dropping like a stone as it is. This app would probably hasten the process.

One other downside to this proposal comes immediately to mind. What if you both have the app on your phones but you either forget to use it or don’t feel like breaking the mood? And then imagine the scenario I described above where your date is obviously consenting and participating in the encounter, but wakes up the next morning regretting their decision and decides to file a report. Would the lack of a consent record on your phones be considered evidence that you were actually guilty of sexual assault?

Technology already pervades nearly every aspect of our lives at this point. Even the traditional process of dating has moved online for increasing numbers of people. But there should still be some limits in place and an app like the one being discussed could definitely test that limit.