Can technology help curb sexual assault on campus?

Can mobile applications truly reduce the number of sexual assaults and rapes that take place on the nation’s college campuses?

But Can an App Really Curb Sexual Assault?

While any effort that addresses and/or thwarts sexual violence on campus is clearly a step in the right direction, certain advocacy organizations are concerned about the marriage of technology with sexual consent. “Generally speaking, these developments are rather disturbing,” said Anna Voremberg, managing director at End Rape on Campus (EROC).

“First of all, rape is not sex and so YES to SEX reflects a misunderstanding of the issue at hand and also what we actually need to be doing to prevent it,” explained Voremberg. “It puts the onus on the would-be victim to provide consent in the form of an act. In addition to that, it ignores the fact that rape is often extremely violent. Ensuring that people can consent would actually, in my opinion, have absolutely nothing to do with rape and sexual assault at all.”

Voremberg is also concerned that the app could be used at a later date to prove that someone consented even if they later retracted that consent and/or changed her mind. “More than 50 percent of freshman girls are sexually assaulted on campus,” she stated, “so what happens when someone is drunk and coerced into pressing the button and consenting?”

“Then she’s assaulted and he brings in that app and says, ‘Look, she said it was okay.’ Meanwhile, she had no idea what she was consenting to,” Voremberg continued. “That adds another layer of disbelief that will be applied to a young woman who is already in an uphill battle because of the way society works.”

Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in Enola, Pa., is cautiously optimistic about technology’s role in providing clear and confident consent. However, she points out that consent is more than just a “yes” or “no” answer. “It’s about actively listening to and respecting your partner, and having that ongoing communication,” said Palumbo. “In that manner, I think there are ways to use technology as an avenue to make consent very clear.”

Acknowledging that young people are extremely comfortable using technology as a communication tool, Palumbo said a mobile app could also be used to create a more unified front against sexual assault and rape both on and off campus. “We’ve really seen how technology was part of what enabled students to connect with one another across the country, and really join their voices against campus sexual assault,” noted Palumbo. “I think an [app] can be used as a unifying tool in that same way—to mobilize students about campus sexual violence prevention.”

A Positive Impact

Mandell-Geller knows that one mobile app isn’t going to end the high number of sexual assault and rapes that take place on the nation’s campuses, but she’s still determined to do her part. “Whether I can help millions of people or just one person, I just want to be able to make a difference,” she says, acknowledging the fact that the current plans and strategies in place aren’t going to have an instant impact.

“It’s going to take time, but if we can use social media and mobile strategies to communicate with Millennials on their terms—and even before they get to college,” she said, “then maybe we can start making a positive impact.”

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