New Technology Attempts to Stop Rape Culture: Can It?
Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the “Yes Means Yes” affirmative action bill into law, making the state the first to take such a step. With sexual assaults on the rise across college campuses everywhere, anti-violence advocates, legislators, and entrepreneurs are seeking out innovative methods to curb the trend and bring peace of mind back to women nationwide. California’s “Yes Means Yes” bill marks an important step forward in the fight to end violence, but some are asking if science and technology might be able to provide their own solution.
In recent months, a number of technological solutions have sprung up, ranging from the concept of a nail polish that can detect “date-rape” drugs to an app designed to allow you to register your level of consent to a smart bracelet that alerts friends when you’re “too drunk.” While some are praising the innovations as the next step in rape prevention, others see these steps as their own form of victim-blaming.
Android and iPhone app Good2Go is designed to “prevent or reduce sexual abuse, miscommunication, or regretted activities by facilitating communication and creating a pause before sexual activity so that both parties can ask and gain affirmative consent.” In theory, the app seems like a solid idea. After all, wouldn’t it be great to have documented proof that both people entering into a sexual encounter consented to it?
Unfortunately, Good2Go falls short in that consent is something that can be revoked at any time. Additionally, the app’s “sobriety questionnaire” is far from scientific. If someone is “Good2Go,” what does that even mean? Rape is absolutely possible after one has consented to some form of sexual activity. By creating an app that places a blanket, irrevocable “Good2Go” label on an encounter, one might be “consenting” to a lot more than they actually consent to. Also, you kind of have to wonder about the motives of someone who is so paranoid that they will be falsely accused of rape that they need you to log your consent into their phone.
Then there’s the Vive smart bracelet, developed by students from the University of Washington. The bracelet contains a number of sensors, similar to that on the new Apple iWatch. Throughout an evening, the bracelet will be able to monitor the wearer’s alcohol levels, and will periodically buzz as a means to say “Are you still doing alright?” The wearer can hit a button, much like a snooze, to shut it off. As one’s alcohol levels rise, the check-ins will become more frequent. If at any point the wearer doesn’t respond, a notification is sent to the wearer’s friends to let them know that they might be in need of help. (A working prototype is not yet available.)
In an editorial at Time.com, Soraya Chemaly slams these recent technological concepts as simply the latest in a long line of efforts to make women responsible for not being raped rather than making men responsible for not raping.
“Every time we focus on making girls and women individually responsible for avoiding rape, we lose the opportunity to address the systemic root problem that our mainstream culture grows rapists like weeds,” writes Chemaly. “Despite my snark, I do understand the need to balance safety with change. I don’t doubt the good intentions of the inventors of these products, but their true value resides less in their questionable efficacy than in the fact . . . [that] the creators . . . are engaged in confronting rape culture. However, each and every instance of ‘how to avoid rape’ that media takes up is one less instance of explaining rape and reducing its pervasive threat.”
While these types of innovations raise awareness about rape culture and offer potentially useful tools to combat predators, they also create new excuses to blame women for their own assaults. Didn’t dip your finger in your drink? Didn’t download the app? Didn’t buy the smart bracelet? These new questions, in which we ask women why they didn’t take the latest preventative measure, may unintentionally give cover to the people who actually commit these heinous acts.
Creating a longer list of things women need to do in order to avoid being raped is not the answer. The answer lies in a cultural version of California’s new law. The simple values in that legislation—”yes means yes”—are the same values we need to instill in the minds of young people everywhere. Raising awareness about rape culture through educational programs will lead to a greater understanding about the problems of objectifying women and the need to take their safety seriously. Of course, these technological tools do offer a platform for discussion, but they are only a starting point.
For all the time and energy we devote into finding new ways to evade rape, we need to be spending this same amount of time and energy on understanding why rape culture exists, and how we can stop it at its root.