A top Australian police officer’s suggestion to use a phone application to record sexual consent as a means to address a rise in sexual assault cases has caused an uproar, with his proposal being branded as “naive”.
Mick Fuller, the police commissioner for the state of New South Wales, said on Thursday that an app that allowed people to digitally document their agreement before having sex could be “part of the solution” after cases of sexual assault in the state rose by 10 percent last year.
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“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.
Fuller said the number of sexual assaults reported in Australia’s most populous state was increasing while a prosecution success rate of only two percent stemming from those reports showed the system was failing.
“Intimate violence, particularly against women, is a real problem crime for us at the moment and we need to find a solution,” he told ABC Radio Sydney on Thursday.
The proposal, which followed allegations of sexual misconduct by top Australian officials that have triggered widespread protests, sparked mostly negative and sceptical responses, with many saying technology was not the answer.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian congratulated Fuller on “taking a leadership position on having the conversation” about the sexual assault problem, but declined to share her opinion on the app.
Time to implement sexual assault reforms which will actually⬆️access to justice
1. Affirmative consent laws
2. Procedural changes to allow evidence of past conduct
3. Allow victims to pre-record evidence
4. Jury directions to counter victim-blaming
5. Training of law enforcement
— Hayley Foster (@HayleyFoster_) March 18, 2021
Lesley-Anne Ey, a University of South Australia expert on harmful sexual behaviour involving children, said she did not think the app would work.
“I don’t think they’re going to interrupt the romance to put details into an app,” Ey told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It’s good (the NSW police are) acknowledging the need for affirmative consent, but this isn’t a safe way forward,” said Hayley Foster, the chief executive at Women’s Safety NSW, the state’s domestic violence service.
“The abuser can simply coerce the victim to use the app,” she tweeted in response to Fuller’s comments.
“I’m mystified by the ongoing belief that technology must be a good solution in situations where we are dealing with power, nuance and complex human behaviour,” said Annabelle Daniel, head of Women’s Community Shelters, a charity.
Catharine Lumby, a Macquarie University specialist in ethics and accountability, described the app as a quick-fix. She called the idea of a consent app as “naive”.
“Fundamentally what we are now having a reckoning with is the fact that there is a very small minority of men in this society who are opportunists, who make the decision to sexually assault women,” Lumby said. “They don’t care where, how or why they do it. They will take the opportunity and I’m sure they are more than capable of manipulating technology,” she said.
Tens of thousands of women protested in rallies across Australia on Monday demanding justice while calling out misogyny and dangerous workplace cultures.
The public anger erupted after the Australian attorney general denied an allegation that he raped a 16-year-old girl 33 years ago, and a former government staffer alleged that she was raped two years ago by a colleague in a minister’s Parliament House office.
Fuller said his suggestion could gain popularity in time.
“To be honest with you, the app idea could be the worst idea I have in 2021, but the reality is in five years, perhaps it won’t be,” he said. “If you think about dating 10 years ago, this concept of single people swiping left and right was a term that we didn’t even know.”
A consent app similar to Fuller’s proposal was launched in Denmark last month. However, the app has not been widely adopted, with fewer than 5,000 downloads, according to mobile intelligence site Sensor Tower.