Consent: There’s an app for that and that’s a problem

Sexual violence prevention strategies often include not leaving a drink unattended, walking in groups at night and self-defense classes. Now, it’s coming in the form of apps.

A new collection of iPhone apps for college students called We-Consent is meant to open a conversation between partners about affirmative consent, in which explicit consent is given before sexual activity happens, as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education. One app allows users to record themselves giving mutual consent, and the other two are “no” apps to record that someone saw a message on the app saying “no.” The videos are then saved in an offline database and are only accessible if there is a legal reason. 

While these apps do help promote a dialogue between partners — that is, if they actually use them — they are also part of the market of products for sexual assault prevention with far-fetched results.

There’s nothing wrong with affirmative consent. However, an app to get people to talk about consent, which is its main purpose, according to the apps’ creator Michael Lissack of the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence, is a short-term solution to the problem of rape and sexual assault. 

Products with the intent to prevent sexual assault include clothes such as extremely tight underwear and shorts for women that are “resistant to pulling,” as shown on Buzzfeed. Or, anti-rape lingerie geared with a GPS device and pressure sensors that can deliver shock waves into an attacker. 

Other items include the female condom with teeth and an anti-rape dress that disguises a woman as a vending machine. 

While the apps don’t necessarily make it a woman’s responsibility to deter assault as all of these products do, it still falls in line with the idea that something must actively be done in order to prevent a dangerous situation, when in actuality all that needs to happen is the conversation itself, or for people to just respect boundaries.

As Lissack pointed out in an interview with the Chronicle, the app in practice necessitates a conversation, as one will have to talk about consent in order to use the app. Yet, it also serves as a reminder that communication needs to happen, when that should be understood without the app.

Sexual assault prevention shouldn’t be done in the form of a Changed Mind App, a We-Consent app described as a “gentler version” of the “no” app. It shouldn’t be about nail polish that detects date-rape drugs. It also shouldn’t be about policies to ban women from fraternity houses

As Alexandra Brodsky of the Know Your IX campaign pointed out in a Think Progress article, products for sexual assault prevention can lead to more victim blaming, as those who didn’t use them could face criticism for not doing enough.

While these products do have safety in mind, prevention should be more focused on emphasizing consent, whether that’s through sexual violence prevention programs at colleges that discuss dangerous cultural norms or through educating people on bystander intervention, since reliance on apps or untearable underwear just isn’t enough.

Isabelle Cavazos is a senior majoring in English and Spanish.