Suite of apps targets consent, sexual assault reporting

One of the apps lets users give consent electronically, but some have questioned its practicality.

Benjamin Farniok

A new suite of apps is targeting a variety of sex assault-related issues, including consent, reporting and evidence gathering. 
 
 
The suite’s central app, I’ve-Been-Violated, is meant to help victims and investigators gather evidence about a sexual assault. While the creators are enthusiastic, a local sexual assault expert has concerns about the app’s practicality.
 
 
The program is part of a suite of four apps focused on consent and related issues and is meant to let victim-survivors record a video of themselves describing their attacks. 
 
 
The app was developed by the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence, a group that researches social theories from small group to societal scales.
 
 
Michael Lissack, ISCE’s executive director, said the group normally focuses on writing papers and studies, but the app represents a more direct approach. 
 
 
The I’ve-Been-Violated app records and sends videos of sexual assault survivors telling their stories to institute servers accessible only by court order, Lissack said. He said keeping videos unavailable makes them more credible, and the tamper-proof nature means police need to spend less time questioning the victim-survivors’ accounts, which can cause further trauma.
 
 
Katie Eichele, director of the University of Minnesota’s Aurora Center said investigators often wait until 48 hours after an assault to let victims collect themselves. Before that, the trauma suffered by a sexual assault survivor may make it difficult to remember exactly what happened.
 
 
She said she appreciates the intent of the technology but thinks it may be impractical because of similar existing options.
 
 
“The technology already exists on nearly every single smartphone to record their trauma,” Eichele said. “The reality is that’s not happening.”
 
 
Lissack said one of the apps’ core objectives could actually be done without the technology: mindful conversations about consent. He said the app gives victim-survivors a place to talk about their experience without being subject to mandatory reporting laws, which require police involvement.
 
 
“At most schools, there is one or two people who are allowed to have the conversation with you and not report it, but they are hard to find,” he said.
 
 
We-Consent, one of the suite’s other apps, allows people to make an electronic signature consenting to sex with another person. If one of the people involved decides they want out of the arrangement, Lissack said they can use the What-About-No app to record their nonconsent.
 
 
Eichele said she thinks the consent app could go against work the University has done, since early stories about the school’s affirmative consent policy said they would require written contracts, drawing criticism.
 
 
Jack Sams, an economics junior and campus ambassador for the app, said he thought the tool could encourage sexual assault reporting and make the University safer. 
 
 
“It’s an uncomfortable topic, so not a lot of people — I think — are super open to just having the app on their phones,” he said. “Still, I think it’s a valuable resource if the time comes.”