In Sweden, the government is proposing new legislation that demands people obtain “verbal agreement or clearly demonstrated desire to engage in sexual activity” before sharing a sexual encounter with another person. It’s an attempt to reduce incidences of sexual assault and rape, but also an act of solidarity with the #metoo movement that has exploded in this ‘post-Weinstein’ era.
Then, last week, news of a new blockchain sexual assault app called LegalFling was spread widely online. LegalFling uses blockchain to allow those about to engage in sexual intercourse to give their mutual consent via a smart contract. In reaction to the proposed Swedish laws, LegalFling’s CEO, Martijn Broersma said, “setting up a written contract isn’t practical, that’s why we came up with LegalFling”.
The big question here is, is tech always the answer? And does its place within the zeitgeist mean that it should be burdened with such a responsibility?
There is no doubt that the world needs to change and that widespread, mostly male, attitudes towards sex and women need radical realignment. And the recent accusation against the much loved, Golden Globe-winning actor and comedian, Aziz Ansari, demonstrates just how complex the idea of consent is.
Technology has been responsible for a lot of positive change in recent years, but when it comes to sex and human desire, one can’t help but feel that claiming experimental technology to be the answer cheapens and simplifies the issue, failing to regard it with the necessary respect and severity.Most importantly, technology is not a substitute for educationClick To Tweet
The current global conversation, sparked by the #metoo movement, should be focussed on education, not technological intervention. LegalFling, used purely as one example, already brings up many questions regarding the effectiveness and fairness of technology against sexual harassment.
- What if you don’t have the app installed on your phone? Must the moment be put to an end until you download it? If it isn’t, are those involved instantly at risk of accusation and prosecution?
- Just because both parties sign it before a sexual encounter, that does not mean the following experience can’t quickly turn negative. Just because yes was said at the beginning, it doesn’t mean that sex can’t turn into rape halfway through. If this were to occur, but both parties had signed a consent contract, what happens and where does the burden of truth lie?
- Sexual assault and rape do not only occur between relative strangers on ‘hook-ups’. They also happen between couples who have been together, having sex, for many years. Does a blockchain contract have to be signed each and every time they make love? And if such a consent contract is signed, does that mean that somebody assaulted by their long-term partner doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on? And vice-versa?
- Should a tech company be trying to profit from a global pandemic of inequality and sexual assault?
Education over intervention
If we want sexual attitudes to change, we must educate people, especially men, to think and behave differently. We must show children and teenagers that consent is not black and white. We must teach them that power is not an excuse nor a tool to enable the manipulation of another.
Do we not want to build a society that doesn’t need blockchain contracts for sexual intercourse? It seems no different to me than trying to argue that punishing the act of shooting someone, rather than making firearm ownership illegal, is the best way to combat gun-related deaths.
Here in London, we have a severe knife-crime problem with more teenagers killed on the capital’s streets in 2017 than ever before. The overwhelming majority of these stabbings have been gang-related. Until we try to understand what is causing these killings, we will never put an end to the violence. And I’m talking about the true cause, not the reason given by the perpetrator.LegalFling brings up many questions regarding the effectiveness and fairness of technologyClick To Tweet
The motivation for these murders, we are told, is gang pride, rivalry and revenge. The real problem is, however, that many young men in gangs believe murder to be an appropriate course of action. Until we understand why they believe this and use that information to improve the ways in which we educate our children about masculinity, rivalry, belonging and friendship, the problem will not be solved. Even if knives came off the streets, other means would be found.
Technology changes the world with each rotation, and often does so in supremely wonderful and positive ways. But let’s not get complacent, over-reliant and misguided. Not every problem in this world is a tech one with a tech solution. Some problems are too human, too complex, and too nuanced for tech to even begin to help with. Most importantly, technology is not a substitute for education. If we fall into the trap of thinking it is, everything is doomed.