Dating Apps and Consent
Written by John Winer
September 27, 2019
A current criminal trial against a former University of Delaware baseball player who sexually assaulted a woman he met on the dating app Bumble highlights the issue of online dating and consent. The flood of sexual harassment and #MeToo stories have made it clear that consent is often not asked for, given or agreed on. Young people need to discuss what level of physical intimacy they feel comfortable with and where it is they draw the line.
When the 20-year-old woman matched with the ex-University of Delaware baseball player Clay Conaway, her first worry was that someone might have stolen the player’s name and photos to pose as the pitcher to catfish her. She would soon realize that she was worried about the wrong thing. During the ongoing trial, defense attorneys argued that she went to Conaway’s house intending to have sex, but prosecutors claimed that she had set clear boundaries and did not want to have sex with the former baseball player. They also told the jury that she called friends immediately after the encounter, crying hysterically. Conaway is accused of multiple sexual assaults by six women, that occurred between 2013 and 2018. If convicted, he faces a minimum of 15 years in prison and a possible life sentence if convicted of first-degree rape.
According to the website LoveisRespect.org, consent is defined as a mutual agreement between two individuals before sexual or physical activity with a partner. When a person gives consent, it means they have freely given someone permission to engage in sexual activity without any feelings of obligation or pressure. But that doesn’t mean that consent can’t be withdrawn at any time. Consent is an ongoing process of communication and relies on people’s comfort levels and the boundaries they set.
Following the #MeToo movement, and the global impact it has had on empowering women and other victims of sexual assault to speak about their experiences, several consent apps have come to surface. Although consent apps such as SaiSie and WeConsent have been around for quite a while, some of the newer and upcoming apps provide legal options such as setting sexual boundaries or sending a cease-and-desist order. Apps like Consent Amour and LegalFling, one of which was removed from the Apple AppStore and Google Play store for violating the policy, were developed to supply evidence that “yes means yes”, and to legally protect consumers if a dispute were to arise. In this way, consent apps worry more about liability as opposed to the safety of the app users.
Last year, Bumble partnered with Planned Parenthood to launch a campaign to promote sexual consent at the University of Texas, to get students talking about the importance of having consent during a sexual encounter. Following its footsteps, Tinder launched a campaign of its own titled “You will get caught” to clarify the definition of consent, and that swiping right for someone does not signal consent for sexual activities. The campaign also aims to show that sex offenses will not go unpunished, to provide more protection to its users.
Online dating is here to stay, and dating apps can and should play a role in promoting safe romantic interactions. In some cases, platforms have already taken the initiative to combat the issue of sexual harassment and assault, but they can do more to ensure the safety of its users.