Let’s talk about these controversial consent apps

It’s amazing how far the conversation around sexual assault on university campuses and beyond has transformed in the last few years alone. The victim-shaming dogma that ruled before is very slowly giving way to a more open and frank discussion of the intricacies of the sexual assault epidemic. And this sea change has played out in a significant number of ways, including the passage of “yes means yes” legislation aimed at public college campuses in New York and California and the rise in the number of men and women who are no longer afraid to share their stories.

But one organization believes that the “yes means yes” movement hasn’t been taken nearly far enough. In fact, the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence believes a third party needs to be involved when it comes to sexual consent: our smartphones.

Last month, the Florida-based education organization released two new apps aimed at recording the moment of sexual consent. The first, We-Consent, charges users $5 per year, creating “a seven year encrypted record of a mutual ‘yes’ available only to law enforcement, upon judicial order, or as evidence in a college or university sexual assault disciplinary proceeding.” Meanwhile, its sister app, What About No, records timestamped and geocoded videos of the withdrawal of consent for a one-time fee of $5. (There’s also a free version that features a police officer stating that consent has been withdrawn.)

“The very option of creating a record demands a discussion of affirmative consent itself,” reads the We-Consent website. “Creating a record provides a much needed mechanism for sharing intentions and requesting permission. It offers a new clear opportunity to say “no” along with the invitation to say “yes.”

While the concept, in theory, is sound enough—if you stop to discuss (and record) consent, then both parties can feel at ease—it fails to make sense in practice. As a number of university students told the TimesWomen In The World, bringing an app into a sexual encounter is not only awkward, it’s nearly unfeasible when things are getting heated.

One student at the University of Mississippi summed it perfectly, if bluntly, saying “I don’t really see college students using this. It just seems silly to me. To stop before sex and open an app to record consent just seems unrealistic.”

While another young lady, anti-rape activist Sarah Daoud, pointed out to the Times that if someone did use We-Consent (the yes-mean-yes app), then later withdrew consent without using the What About No app, it might hurt their chances of winning a legal case against their rapist.

“Clean, intentional conversations can become the new norm,” she adds.

And herein lies the issue: An app may only further complicate a matter that shouldn’t need technology to define it. “Yes means yes” needs to become part of the sexual parlance not through using an app, but through education, public policy and ultimately, the reversal of the kind of rape culture pervasive on and off campuses throughout the country. It’s not easy to change—and it’s encouraging to see people trying even through technology—but the solution may not be as easy as the touch of a smartphone.


What the Yes Means Yes bill means to college women

(Image via iTunes)