A proposal by New South Wales’ top cop for a sexual consent check-in app has been panned as a “ghastly” idea that would make it harder to convict sexual assault perpetrators.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller on Thursday embarked on a media blitz to promote his idea, which he said would normalise conversations around consent and tackle the increasing rate of sexual assault.
Recent Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data found 15,000 women came forward with sexual assault reports last year, a 10 per cent increase on 2019.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Fuller said the app would keep in step with how dating has changed in the digital age and modernise how Australians talked about “positive consent”.
“People say ‘how unromantic is that’. But think of how many people are looking for friendship and love online – it’s not as though technology and dating are foreign to us,” Mr Fuller said.
Mr Fuller doubled down speaking to reporters in Sydney on Thursday, saying a consent app could “stop matters going into the justice system”.
“Should I be embarrassed about protecting the women of NSW? I say no,” Mr Fuller said.
“Men are victims of this as well. We should give people clarity … It’s about not putting people in the justice system because in NSW there is greater clarity around this.”
However, in a historic week defined by blazing calls at women’s marches for systemic change in approaches to gendered violence and calls for an independent inquiry into Attorney-General Christian Porter, Mr Fuller’s idea was widely regarded as missing the mark.
Critics were quick to point out the app ignores the fact that consent can be revoked at any time, it does not apply if an abuser coerces their victim into unwanted sexual acts after initial consent and that it would have no way of proving the absence of consent.
Writer Anna Spargo-Ryan said the app would exacerbate the problem of the police force disregarding victims, reducing the likelihood of cases going to trial and eventual convictions for rapists.
The New Daily has previously reported just two men receive jail time for every 207 victims assaulted.
“If you’re assaulted without using the app to give initial consent, there’s presumably no record of it happening … [and] a rapist is not going to come out and accuse himself,” Ms Spargo-Ryan wrote on Twitter.
“So the only reason for this app to exist is to support legal action against the victim.”
Social commentator Jane Caro said the idea was “designed to protect men, not women”.
Others suggested the app, which Mr Fuller said could be overseen by a private firm, could be vulnerable to hackers, who could make users’ record of sexual partners public.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declined to comment on Mr Fuller’s idea as she hadn’t “had time to digest exactly what he’s proposing”.
Labor shadow minister for women Tanya Plibersek told reporters though raising the complications of consent in the legal system was admirable, it failed to address key issues behind rising sexual assault numbers.
“I think we really need to be teaching consent to our kids, as part of a respectful relationship program that’s age-appropriate, in our schools, in our homes,” Ms Plibersek said.
And NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong went one step further.
“We need consent law reform, we need holistic consent education, we need to stop men feeling they are entitled to whatever they want, we need an independent complaints process, we need justice. We need equality. We do not need an app!” Ms Leong said.
Catherine Lumby, a professor at Sydney University who specialises in ethics and accountability, told the ABC Mr Fuller’s concept was “naive”.
“The answer isn’t letting technology solving our problems,” she said.
Mr Fuller’s proposal echoes an app rolled out in Denmark last month, which has currently had fewer than 5000 downloads, and comes just one week after he called for an overhaul in NSW’s consent laws.
“There needs to be a line drawn in the sand in terms of what consent is and I think it needs to be a better criminal definition around that,” Mr Fuller told a state budget estimates hearing.