Swipe right to consent? Australian police commissioner's proposed sexual-consent app met with criticism

A senior Australian police official who suggested an app could be used to document sexual consent in an effort to improve conviction rates in sex crime cases was met with a largely negative response Thursday.  

Tens of thousands protested across Australia Monday demanding an end to violence against women

Protestors attend one of several 'March 4 Justice' rallies across Australia in Brisbane on Monday. Allegations of sexual misconduct by top Australian officials have triggered widespread demonstrations. (Jono Searle/Getty Images)

A senior Australian police official who suggested an app could be used to document sexual consent in an effort to improve conviction rates in sex crime cases was met with a largely negative response Thursday.  

New South Wales state Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said that the same dating apps that have brought couples together could also provide clarity on the question of consent.

"Technology doesn't fix everything, but ... it plays such a big role in people meeting at the moment. I'm just suggesting: Is it part of the solution?" Fuller asked.

The commissioner said the number of sexual assaults reported in Australia's most populous state was increasing while a prosecution success rate of only two per cent stemming from those reports showed the system was failing.

"Consent can't be implied," Fuller wrote in News Corp. newspapers. "Consent must be active and ongoing throughout a sexual encounter."

New South Wales state Police Commissioner Mick Fuller addresses the media during a press conference in Sydney on Thursday. Fuller suggested a phone app be developed to document sexual consent in a bid to improve conviction rates in sex crime cases. (Dean Lewins/AAP Image/The Associated Press)

Skeptical response

Responses to the suggestion of a consent app have been largely negative or skeptical, with many saying technology was not the answer.

"It's good (the NSW police are) acknowledging the need for affirmative consent, but this isn't a safe way forward," said Hayley Foster, the chief executive at Women's Safety NSW, the state's domestic violence service.

"The abuser can simply coerce the victim to use the app," she tweeted in response to Fuller's comments.

"I'm mystified by the ongoing belief that technology must be a good solution in situations where we are dealing with power, nuance and complex human behaviour," said Annabelle Daniel, head of Women's Community Shelters, a charity.

Catharine Lumby, a Sydney University specialist in ethics and accountability, described the app as a quick-fix that misunderstood the circumstances of sexual assaults.

"Fundamentally, what we are now having a reckoning with is the fact that there is a very small minority of men in this society who are opportunists, who make the decision to sexually assault women," Lumby said.

"They don't care where, how or why they do it. They will take the opportunity and I'm sure they are more than capable of manipulating technology," Lumby said.

Lesley-Anne Ey, a University of South Australia expert on harmful sexual behaviour involving children, said she didn't think the app would work.

"I don't think they're going to interrupt the romance to put details into an app," Ey told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Meanwhile, State Premier Gladys Berejiklian congratulated Fuller on "taking a leadership position on having the conversation" about the sexual assault problem, but declined to share her opinion on the app.

A woman holds up a placard during a protest against sexual violence and gender inequality in Melbourne on Monday. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

Top Australian officials accused of rape 

More than 100,000 women protested in rallies across Australia on Monday demanding justice while calling out misogyny and dangerous workplace cultures.

The public anger erupted after the Australian attorney general denied an allegation that he raped a 16-year-old girl 33 years ago. As well, a former government staffer alleged that she was raped two years ago by a colleague in a minister's Parliament House office.

Fuller said his app suggestion could gain popularity in time.

"To be honest with you, the app idea could be the worst idea I have in 2021, but the reality is in five years, perhaps it won't be," he said. "If you think about dating 10 years ago, this concept of single people swiping left and right was a term that we didn't even know."

A consent app similar to Fuller's proposal was launched in Denmark last month. But the app hasn't been widely adopted, with fewer than 5,000 downloads, according to mobile intelligence site Sensor Tower.

With files from Reuters