Top cop proposes consent app – but admits it might be his ‘worst idea’

Critics say the app misses the mark and ignores the fact consent can be withdrawn at any time.

Critics say the app misses the mark and ignores the fact consent can be withdrawn at any time. Photo: ABC

A proposal by one of Australia’s top police officers to use phone apps to record sexual consent between parties to combat climbing sexual assault figures has been branded “naive”.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the country needed to modernise ideas around “positive consent” where consent is “active and ongoing throughout a sexual encounter”.

“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 Sydney on Thursday.

Commissioner Fuller acknowledged the app might be “the worst idea I have all year”, but COVID-19 had shown the importance of adopting technological solutions.

“If someone told me two years ago that we would have to sign in our phones every time we sat down at a restaurant, I would’ve laughed at them,” he said.

“Whether the app floats or not, I think it’s irrelevant … I think it’s about understanding that this crime is on the increase … and we need to confront it whether that’s through technology or education and training or through other ideas.”

According to recent figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, reported sexual assaults rose by 10 per cent in 2020 with a total of 15,000 women coming forward.

Only 2 per cent of those led to guilty verdicts in court.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller’s idea has been met with broad criticism. Photo: AAP

Commissioner Fuller admitted there would be ways people with ill intentions could manipulate the app but said starting the conversation was critical.

He said many men believe if a woman goes home with them, that in itself constitutes consent. So society must find a way to educate men on positive consent.

Catherine Lumby, a professor at Sydney University who specialises in ethics and accountability, has knocked back the app idea, calling it “naive”.

She said the app was a quick fix and misunderstood the circumstances that surrounded sexual assaults.

‘Fundamentally what we are having now is a reckoning that a very small minority of men are opportunists, who make the decision to sexually assault women, they don’t care where, how and why they do it, they will take the opportunity and I’m sure they are more than capable of manipulating technology,” Professor Lumby said.

“They certainly wouldn’t say, ‘I’m thinking of having sex with you now, would you like to sign up to this app and say yes?’.”

She said the sexual assault crisis would be solved only if human communication was the focus.

“The answer isn’t letting technology solving our problems.”

A functional sexual consent app, similar to what Commissioner Fuller has proposed, was launched in Denmark in February.

The iConsent app was introduced after the country made major reforms to its sexual assault laws to criminalise sex without explicit consent from all parties.

But the app hasn’t been widely adopted, with less than 5000 downloads, according to mobile intelligence site Sensor Tower.

In November, NSW parliament tabled a sweeping set of recommendations from the NSW Law Reform Commission, including that sexual consent shouldn’t be presumed just because a person did not physically or verbally resist.

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