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18 Mar, 2021 13:08

Australian police chief sparks backlash by proposing app to record sexual consent, later admitting it may be year’s ‘worst idea’

Australian police chief sparks backlash by proposing app to record sexual consent, later admitting it may be year’s ‘worst idea’

An Australian senior police official reignited the debate about protecting women from assault when he suggested using a mobile app to record sexual consent, eliciting a backlash.

Mick Fuller, a police official in Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), first defended his proposal for a ‘consent app’ after a wave of criticism. He was quoted by APP as saying that the app would prevent sexual assault and also keep victims out of the justice system, as sexual assault trials are typically difficult and traumatic.

“I’m hoping technology, whether it’s an app or something else, will save matters going into the justice system, because there is clarity that this is just dinner or just a date,” Fuller said.

“At the end of the day, should I be embarrassed about protecting the women of NSW? I say no.” 

In a later interview with the Australian media, Fuller acknowledged that his proposal might be “the worst idea” he has voiced all year, but said it could serve as a way to start a much-needed debate on how to better record consent.

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In an op-ed for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Fuller had highlighted the fact that the police received more than 15,000 reports of sexual assault in 2020. But less than 2% reports end in a guilty verdict in court, he stressed. That figure might be improved if consent could somehow be formalized, and modern technology offered an “option” to do that, he argued.

“Consent can’t be implied,” he wrote. “It is not given simply through the arrangement of a dinner through social media or a dating app.”

We need a discussion about innovative solutions and how we can gauge positive consent. … Just as we’ve had to check in at the coffee shop to keep people safe [during the pandemic], is there a way consent can be confirmed or documented?

Fuller agreed there could be “challenges,” such as if someone withdrew consent after agreeing, but told the newspaper an app would be “a good starting point.”

The police chief’s proposal was met with a backlash from women’s rights groups and some politicians, and was criticized on social media. Hayley Foster, chief executive of Women’s Safety NSW, told SBS News that consent is a “dynamic process.”

“You cannot assume that somebody has consented, or somebody has signed away their consent, then, later on, assume they’re consenting to that ongoing activity. That’s just consent 101,” Foster said.

Sydney Institute of Criminology director Andrew Dyer argued that the consent app could ultimately also be used against the victims in court instead of protecting them. “It seems to be something that the accused might be able to use in a criminal trial to excuse his or her conduct,” he said.

A regional MP for the Labor Party, Lynda Voltz, told AAP that the consent app was “problematic,” because women could be coerced into recording consent by an assailant.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, meanwhile, told Sydney radio station 2GB that, while the proposed app “could be a terrible idea” today, it might well become the “normal” dating method in the future. She thanked Fuller for “taking a leadership position in having the conversation.”

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