CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller fronted the media on Thursday afternoon to defend his widely criticised proposal to tackle mounting cases of sexual assault with an app that would record positive consent.

Throughout the press conference in Sydney, he pointed to the value of preventing sexual assault, saying that he was glad his widely criticised idea opened up a conversation about consent. He added that it was important for education to be a part of the solution.

His language often seemed to privilege the experiences of people accused of assault while placing expectations on victims and their peers, while also denying the value of changes to sexual assault legislation.

“It’s about protecting victims,” he claimed, pointing for the need for young people and people on juries to have a better understanding of the issue. “It’s a worthy issue to be fighting for.”

“Should I be embarrassed about protecting the women of New South Wales, and I say no,” he offered.

An app recording consent sounds more like passing the buck for protecting people from predatory behaviour from police onto women, who we all know already engage in a range of behaviours to prevent assault. But okay.

Throughout the day people have raised concerns about the proposed app, including the possibility of coercion, the issue of withdrawn consent, the influence of drugs and alcohol and the blindingly obvious fact that a “Please don’t rape me” button on a screen is unlikely to dissuade abusers.

Oh and how the app could be used largely to exculpate offenders.

At the press conference today, Mick Fuller said that there were “continual increases” in the rate of sexual crimes being reported. While that is likely true, it does not necessarily suggest a rise in sexual crime so much as a cultural shift encouraging people to speak up.

The number he offered was 15,000 women coming forward with sexual assault allegations in one year. The cops have a 2% success rate for prosecutions, he added, and that’s out of just 10% of cases that are actually brought to trial.

He added that while the justice system is “overwhelmed” by the issue of consent, he was not advocating for a change to legislation. “I don’t think changing legislation is gonna help,” Fuller said.

A review of consent law by the NSW Law Reform Commission with 40 recommendations was tabled in NSW Parliament in November 2020. The recommendations included that consent is not assumed when a person does not “say or do anything”. The Government has not at this stage acted on any of the recommendations of the report.

Instead Fuller is interested in a “conversation” that prioritises keeping ~promising young men~ and traumatised women out of the justice system, acknowledging that his app idea may never come to fruition.

“I would hope that the app stops matters going into the justice system, because the justice system doesn’t seem to be helping the offenders in these matters or the victim.”

But he wants the idea of a technological fix to be on the table, because people are more likely to meet online than in the real world. With an app, he said people could be clear that a meeting was “just dinner” or “just a date”. He even proposed that a positive consent function could be incorporated into existing dating apps.

“Is [technology] perhaps an avenue in terms of trying to bring clarity and some respect to women?” he asked.

Mick Fuller dismissed concerns that “impaired” people could be coerced into positive consent on an app. “I think it would be pretty tough to get someone to sign an app or make a statement on an app in that case and for a jury to accept that was consent given the level of impairment.”

In the press conference he attested that it is “not victim-blaming” to ask women to be direct about what they want from an interaction, or to encourage people’s friends to take more responsibility for someone who is drunk or otherwise intoxicated.

“[It’s] more about starting the conversation about what’s acceptable and what you’ll let your friend do when they’re intoxicated, and, if you’re taking someone home who trusts you, what you think consent is,” Fuller said.

Perhaps we as a society need to be focusing on the attitudes to women that lead people to think that it is okay to sexually assault them. Perhaps we need to teach respect for women and their bodily autonomy and then hold people accountable when they wilfully breach another person’s boundaries. Perhaps we need men to stand with us to fight the scourge of sexual assault.

Just a few suggestions that are better than an app that yet again places the onus on people being assaulted to keep themselves safe.

Help is available.

If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.

If you’d like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online

Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.

Image: Getty Images / Lisa Maree Williams