NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller was slammed last week for suggesting that an app could be used to record consent and combat the increasing number of sexual assaults.
Fuller proposed the idea last week, suggesting a technological solution to a growing problem in Australia and likening it to the digital venue sign-ins brought about by COVID-19.
“Two years ago I would have said ‘you’re mad, I’m not doing that’,” he said.
“Do we protect people dating by having a positive affirmation in an app?
“People say ‘how unromantic is that’. But think of how many people are looking for friendship and love online – it’s not as though technology and dating are foreign to us.”
Throughout Thursday, Fuller made broadcast appearances discussing the idea and talking of the growing number of sexual violence against women cases in NSW – around 15,000 per year.
“This app could be a terrible idea and it certainly wouldn’t be an app run by government,” he told 2GB.
“Even if the app doesn’t go forward from this day, we need to start the conversation around consent and get a better understanding for the next generation of people who are dating.”
Fuller’s suggestion to bring a similar system in Australia was routinely criticised – despite his good intentions – for his apparent misunderstanding of the nature of consent in the first place.
CEO of Women’s Safety NSW, Hayley Foster, said it was good to see Fuller talking about the need for a positive model of consent – one in which consent cannot be implied – but that an app is not the right form of action.
“It’s not the best idea,” she told ABC radio. “If it was implemented, we would have concerns about victims themselves actually being caught up in signing or being coerced to sign away their consent at an earlier stage.
“We know that consent is a fluid and dynamic thing. We need to make sure people can say yes or no to that sexual conduct at any point in time.”
Labor MP Tanya Plibersek said the issue of sexual consent is not as cut and dried as an app might suggest.
“The fact that you’ve signed up, in the beginning, doesn’t mean that you’re up for everything that your partner suggests,” she said.
“You can withdraw consent. We really need to be teaching consent to our kids, as part of a respectful relationship program that’s age-appropriate, in our schools, in our homes.”
If we want to increase accountability for sexual assault we need to be led by victim-survivors and women’s safety services. This is what they say we need: https://t.co/TsZorb3S2B (2/2) @MarkSpeakman @TrishDoyleMP @AbigailBoydMLC— Hayley Foster (@HayleyFoster_) March 17, 2021
Bond University law professor Dr Jonathon Crowe told Junkee a consent app might even have the unintended consequence of helping perpetrators.
“There is a lot of potential for perpetrators, for people to coerce or pressure their victim to consent on the app and use that as a defence in court,” Crowe added.
“One of the barriers to prosecuting rape and sexual assault cases is establishing that the circumstances around the sex were coercive.
“If the defendant can say that she ticked a box in the app, that could create another type of excuse, a ‘get out of gaol’ card for defendants.”
An app called iConsent was released in Denmark earlier this year but has not been widely adopted.
The app description says “sex is fun when all parties agree”.
“With iConsent, you can register your consent to intercourse in less than 30 seconds.”
It currently has a rating of 2.2 on the Google Play store.