Smartphone apps record you saying yes or no to having sex

By Anastasia Dawson March 21,2016

Worried about whether you really have consent from a potential sexual partner — or whether a potential partner cares that you gave it or not?

Now there’s an app for that.

The We-Consent smartphone application suite, launched for free last week in Apple’s App Store, contains four apps that record messages of consent — or nonconsent — in an encrypted file saved offline that can only be accessed by law enforcement, university officials or with a subpoena, according to the apps’ developers.

The app named We-Consent, records a video of each partner stating their name, the name of their partner and an explicit “yes,” “no” or, if they feel pressured to have sex, “forced yes.”

About 10,000 have downloaded the package of four apps thus far, and there are plans to pilot them at about two dozen colleges nationwide this fall, said Michael Lissack, executive director for the Boston-based nonprofit Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence, which developed the app.

“Only yes means yes, and all of the meaning is in the word only,” Lissack said. “The absence of no does not mean yes, only yes means yes, and this app helps remind people of that.”

Consent from Apple to approve the apps didn’t come with an easy yes, Lissack said.

The institute, a group of about 25 academics, spent a year urging the company to allow their app to be offered for free in the App Store.

The company relented when the apps’ creators added more focus on “saying no” to the product’s description, Lissack said.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

Monnie Wertz, the University of Tampa’s victim’s advocate and assistant to the vice president of operations and planning, said there has been a rise in smartphone apps and other web-based applications that combat sexual violence after Vice President Joe Biden issued a call to action in 2011.

Most have options for students to send emergency messages to friends or their campus safety agency if they need assistance. So far, though, they seem to be getting little traction.

“I have not heard a lot of chatter about those apps from our students, but we have posted them on our website to make students aware that they’re there,” Wertz said. “I think a lot of this rise in awareness has to do with student activism. Students began to feel intolerant of their school administrations not responding appropriately to sexual violence.”

Mikayla Dinapoli, 18, and Brit Slavinsky, 19, both freshmen at UT, said using an app to broach the topic of consent could make conversations more difficult for college students.

“It sounds like a really awkward way to start a conversation,” Dinapoli said. “I feel like no one would want to videotape it.”

The Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence gained approval from Apple first last summer for its What-About-No app, which videotapes someone watching a recording of a police officer saying “No” for the user. The recording doesn’t mince words.

“You were told no. A video of that no message has been recorded and saved. What is it about the word no that you do not understand? No means no,” the message says, before a stop sign appears on the screen and the viewer is notified the video has been uploaded to the cloud.

Then, in January, Apple approved the institute’s I’ve-Been-Violated App, which allows victims to record a video of themselves explaining the assault and then save it in an encrypted file. Using the GPS in the user’s phone, the video will say where they were and what time the video was recorded. The hope is the videos could be used as evidence when the victim decides to come forward, Lissack said.

A fourth app created by the company, The-Party-Pass App, creates a QR code to be printed on a poster and hung above the door to a party. When attendees scan the QR code for admittance, it takes them to a pledge to sign that reads: “For the next eight hours I pledge not to engage in sexual relations unless I have first had an explicit discussion about them with my prospective partner.”

So far, the institute has not had to turn over any videos to authorities, Lissack said, which could mean the apps are doing what they were created to do — sparking frank discussions about consent.

“We don’t care if they ever run the app. Merely talking about it is a victory,” Lissack said. “Most of the problem the present college generation is having about sexual consent is they don’t spend enough time talking to each other, they assume things that turn out to be false and don’t engage in explicit discussion.”

The We-Consent app suite is available in Apple’s App Store. Android versions of the apps are expected to be released this spring.

“Consent is so key to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses,” Wertz said, “and the more conversations happen across college campuses about what consent looks like and what permission means, the more it will lead to healthy protections of college students and create a safe campus community.”