In season 3 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy goes to a college party for the first time, and a boy asks her to sign a contract before they’re about to kiss. Consent has become more widely discussed by younger people, but there’s still a lot of confusion on the topic.
In 2014, the Obama administration released a list of 55 colleges and universities in the U.S under investigation for their handling of sexual assault complaints.
In response, many colleges began adopting policies of affirmative consent, meaning that consent is to be voluntarily granted by all people engaging in an act. In other words, institutes are adopting a policy of “yes means yes” rather than “no means no.” With these new definitions of consent, many students are afraid of accusations of sexual assault while others are worried about being victims of it.
How Consent Apps Work
SaSie is an app that lets people consent to sexual acts with a contract. You open the app with your partner, read and sign a contract, take photos of your IDs, and save the contract with a password.
The app is only on iOS at the moment.
This may seem odd, but its intention is to foster dialogue about sex and to encourage affirmative consent on college campuses. James Martin, a representative from SaSie, explains:
The contract in our app says, in essence, that each student agrees to respect the ongoing nuances of each other’s consent, and that they agree to gain and grant affirmative consent from each other on an ongoing basis, follow their school’s affirmative consent policies while conducting their relationship, and communicate with their other partner the second that consent changes. The parties agree that when that consent changes, they will terminate the contract with the other party using our termination button to end the contract.
There are several other apps out there for encouraging affirmative consent: We-Consent (which has users record videos of themselves consenting), What-About-No (which oddly makes users listen to a video of a police officer telling them “no” while being recorded), and I’ve-Been-Violated (which lets people record video and audio of themselves to “collect evidence” after an assault occurs).
“What we have as a goal is to foster an environment and set of behaviours where assumptions are not made, but instead there is a dialogue between the prospective partners,” said Michael Lissack, who founded We-Consent. “The goal of the We-Consent app is to encourage and ‘nudge’ such dialogue into taking place.”
The Problems With Consent Apps
But documenting consent at a moment can be misleading rather than helpful in building an understanding of what affirmative consent means.
“I’m all for fostering dialogue about consent – it’s a big part of my job – but these apps are fostering a wrong and dangerous conversation, one that posits consent as irrevocable once given, and applying to any and all sex acts someone might want to force on you, once you’ve consented to ‘sex’ as a concept,” said Jaclyn Friedman, author of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Sexual Power. “Pushing that idea is more dangerous than not talking about consent at all.”
There’s also the possibility that someone might be coerced into giving consent on the apps (since there really is no way of proving otherwise) and that the documentation could then be misused as defence in sexual assault cases.
Many features from consent apps also aren’t likely to be used in real-life situations. For example, when consenting to a sexual act, We-Consent has “yes”, “no”, and “forced yes” as options. Lissack defines a forced yes as when someone is being forced to consent – but someone being forced to consent is likely to answer “yes” instead of “forced yes.”
The apps also put a lot of responsibility on people to make it clear when withdrawing their consent. Friedman says:
Juries tend to look for any reason to disbelieve victims, and ‘they didn’t say no/fight hard enough’ is one of the most common reasons. In reality, victims often freeze up and say nothing. Under this standard, participants have no responsibility to pay attention to their partner’s body language or participation levels.
If their partner has consented to something and then freezes up or disassociates and is just laying there, according to this contract, it’s cool to keep doing whatever to them. This is barbaric, and it’s not how affirmative consent works.
Another consent app, Good2Go, was in the app store for nine days before being removed from the App Store for having “excessively objectionable or crude content.”
Consent apps aren’t prevalent on school campuses. “When I talk with college students about them, often I have to explain what I’m even talking about,” said Friedman. “They don’t seem to be that pervasive yet, and I hope they never become so.”
They’re also often poorly made with lots of bugs and glitches. When I installed We-Consent, it froze and wouldn’t let me create an account. Though I was able to test it out, I couldn’t read SaSie’s terms and conditions page because it wouldn’t scroll.
There is no “quick and easy” way to talk about consent. The best method of getting people to understand consent is through dialogue and education, starting with talking more openly about sex and teaching it in schools (more than half of the states don’t require sex ed and only 20 states require their sex education to be factually accurate).