Apple OKs apps to obtain and understand sexual consent

By Dr. Gracelyn Santos April 04,2016

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- There is a nonprofit educational research institute based out of Boston that's been battling with Apple to approve apps to help college students understand consent when it comes to sexual relations on campuses.

The Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence claims there is confusion among college students about sexual relations and the new standard of "Only Yes Means Yes," which has led to hundreds of investigations and ruined lives.

According to Michael Lissack, executive director ISCE, many students do not understand the idea of "consent" while others says they can no longer rely on guidelines like "the absence of a no is not a yes."

The free apps are designed to change the context in which unwanted behaviors occur.

"By giving students tools of empowerment, apps can make a real difference. Apps are real time and cell phones are ubiquitous. Education efforts are great but they do not create effects which are with students 24/7. Apps provide that 24/7 coverage simply by being on the students' phones."

The institute has spent the better part of a year battling with Apple to gain approval for a suite of apps to help students. Finally, Apple relented earlier this month as the social issues around consent and assault become more prominent.

Approvals were granted -- first for an app to help college students say no in a more powerful way, then for the I've-Been-Violated app for sexual assault survivors and now for the We-Consent app.

No-cost pilot programs are currently being run at selected institutions across the United States to demonstrate and potentially improve the efficacy of the entire app suite.

"Consent is confusing, because consent is the wrong word. Students should be taught that sexual relations require mutual license from both participants not 'permission' from one of them," said Lissack. "License is an easy concept to understand; you either have it or you don't.

"In our society there arise too many situations where one person assumes permissions that were never granted -- assumptions that stem from status or context. It is those assumed permissions that lead to the confusion -- and lead to the need for the apps."

The We-Consent app suite currently consists of four apps: We-Consent, What-About-No, I've-Been-Violated and The-Party-Pass.

THE WE-CONSENT APP

This app is designed to record evidence of consent and, more important, to trigger discussions by prospective partners about whether they have consent. Each partner is prompted to state his or her name, the name of the other partner, and to state explicitly "yes" to sexual relations.

If the second partner is feeling coerced, he or she can state "forced yes" and the app creates a record of the coercion. If either partner says anything other than "yes" or "forced yes," the app will abort and no video is created.

The We-Consent app records video and audio, which are encrypted, sent initially to cloud storage, and then stored offline. The recordings are only available to law enforcement, university disciplinary proceedings or by subpoena. They are not available directly to the users.

THE WHAT-ABOUT-NO APP

This app creates a powerful delivery of a "no" message and gives the user the option of recording someone watching a video of a policeman stating "no" in clear terms. The person who wants to communicate the "no" message activates the app on his or her phone.

After a few seconds delay (to allow time for the phone owner to show the phone's display to the other party), a policeman appears on screen and states "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!" Thereafter, a stop sign appears notifying the viewer: "A video of you watching this 'no' message has been safely uploaded to the cloud."

THE I'VE-BEEN-VIOLATED APP

This app is designed for those unfortunate times when an assault occurs and the victim is unwilling to immediately speak with appropriate third parties (i.e. legal, health or school-based) about that event. Once the victim has reached what he or she considers to be a safe place, the I've-Been-Violated app can be run.

The app asks the victim to identify him- or herself, to state what transpired, and to name the assaulter. Inherently, the video will record the current appearance of the victim (which may be useful evidence at a later date).

This information is video recorded, and, as with all other apps in the We-Consent suite, the geo-coded, time-stamped video is encrypted and sent to the cloud for transfer to offline storage. The video is only available to appropriate legal, health, and school authorities or upon subpoena.

When the victim believes it is time to speak about what happened, the I've-Been-Violated video recording is available to use as contemporaneous evidence that can minimize credibility issues.

THE PARTY-PASS APP

This two-part app is designed to help change the context of parties with regard to the attitudes of the attendees regarding sexual activity. Using a web-based interface, hosts of parties generate a QR-code to be printed as a poster and displayed at the entrance to a party.

Attendees of the party then use their phones to scan the QR code as part of the process of gaining admittance to the party. The QR code hangs above a pledge, and the scanning of the QR code is a recommitment to that pledge. The pledge is: "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."

ISCE is partnering with more than two dozen colleges and universities to pilot the app suite during 2016 with nationwide rollout planned for 2017.

When you hear "there is an app for that," yes that includes giving consent to sex, saying no and reporting assault.