The same people that brought us We-Consent, the app that asked partners to record their consent to prove that they both were sober enough to give consent and record said consent; What-About-No, the app that allows a user to play a video of a policeman shouting “NO” to show clearly they are not giving consent; and Party-Pass, the app where users can pledge not to have sex without consent and get an email the next morning reminding them of that pledge; have now added I’ve-Been-Violated, an app to record evidence after sexual assault.
The app suite has been covered by The Guardian, USA Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Independent, and MTV News, to name a few, and has been regarded as a generally positive, useful tool for college students and athletes. But after talking with (or more appropriately being talking down to by) Michael Lissack, the brain behind We-Consent and founder of The Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence, the parent company that funded the apps, I am less than convinced the apps will be effective in any way. And I especially not convinced they will elicit any social change as Lissack hopes, or will help any survivor of sexual assault.
The “We-Consent” app suite operates under many assumptions, including that once you have recorded enthusiastic affirmative consent in the We-Consent app, you will not later change your mind. Or if you do change your mind, you will whip out your phone and pull out the What-About-No app, play the other person a video of a “burly” Boston policeman saying, “You’ve been told no,” and record a video of this no, thus creating proof that you rescind your consent. “If you have enough presence of mind to say the word no, you have enough presence to get help in saying the word no,” Lissack continued, “The idea that you can’t pick up your phone to run the No App is ridiculous.”
When asked about the possibility that someone would not want to pull their phone out when they’re trying to leave a possibly unsafe situation, Lissack called that a “false premise.” It was just one of the many times he contradicted me, either saying one of my questions were false, ridiculous, or crazy. “How do you not have the chance to do it? You wanted something to stop, why didn’t you just stop? The app takes 20 seconds to run, how did you not have 20 seconds?”
The idea behind I’ve-Been-Violated is that survivors of sexual assault will be able to privately and securely record evidence immediately after an assault occurs. Once the recording is done, it sends the encrypted video to an offline server for seven years. Then, when the survivor is ready, they can show this evidence to the proper authorities, thus making reporting an assault convenient and allowing the survivor to have an unchanging, documented story.
However, the survivor will never be able to retrieve their own video or have it deleted. They must contact the authorities who then get the video as evidence.
“Just cause you want it, sorry, you don’t get it just because you wanted it,” said Lissack.
What Lissack, the We-Consent developers, and apparently any of the other media outlets that reported on these apps fail to recognize, is there is a whole slew of reasons why someone may choose not to report an assault or not want to be on camera within hours of the assault. The app focuses on the person who has been assaulted recording evidence to avoid accusations of later changing their story.
“It’s the survivor’s responsibility to look out for him or herself if they have tools at their disposal that they chose not to use they need to recognize that they chose not to use them. It was a choice,” said Lissack.
In many cases, survivors are fearful to come forward because they won’t be believed by the authorities. The legal system is in many ways set up against victims of sexual assault and looks at survivors as guilty until proven innocent — just look at Kesha’s case. Victim blaming and the slut-shaming that comes with it is further traumatizing.
We-Consent fails to recognize the fluidity of consent, trapping someone into consenting on video without accounting for the possibility that he or she will later not consent, and I’ve-Been-Violated fails to meet the needs of a survivor. The idea of a victim of sexual assault being responsible for recording their own evidence and storing it in the cloud, just in case they decide to report and will then be taken seriously, seems like the “But what were you wearing?” of the digital age.
The apps are difficult to track down as a whole package. I’ve Been Violated is available for free— the whole suite is not. Lissack said that Apple told him the apps were “icky” and rejected them from the store. To get all of the apps, you have to go to the ISCE’s website and become a member for $5 a year or $4 if you are part of a group. The suite is marketed to colleges and universities to purchase and provide to their students. The ISCE is classified as a charity on Donation Planet — a website where people can for and donate to the institute.
Michael Lissack has not always worked in app development. It looks as though he has never worked in nonprofit, but he has worked on Wall Street. I found it interesting that he made the leap into social behavioral research— especially when his apps have a price tag. However, even Lissack can admit the limitations of the apps. "It’s not going to help you if there’s a baseball bat, it’s not going to help you if they’re out of their mind. But if there’s any degree of rationality present, it should help you," he said.
Making a profit off of sexual assault may seem pretty skeezy, but it is a growing market for developers. Coming up with apps that will help prevent assaults or help victims of assault is a lucrative field when these apps are marketed at schools. But the problem is that the apps do not focus on the right part of the issues with consent and sexual assault. It isn’t that people can’t say no for themselves (a video of a male police officer is much more convincing, apparently) or need recorded proof of consent, it’s that people need to know that they can say no at any time and what enthusiastic consent actually means. The money put into developing these ineffective apps would have been better spent on an education or apps that connect people with the support they need. But remember, according to Lissack, if you are recorded on camera giving affirmative consent and later rescind that consent and fail to get that on camera, whatever happens after with that evidence is not the apps fault. "I can’t control what people do," he said. "People slip on ladders, people misuse knives, people are hurt by lawn mowers, you don’t not offer things because they are going to get misused."
More from BUST