Men Who Think 'Consent Videos' Are The Answer To Sexual Assault Are Very Wrong

Photographed by Anna Jay
A lot has been written and said about the difficulties of navigating sex and romance in this post-#MeToo world, in which many men claim to be confused about how to interact with women, but few solutions have been proposed so far. One idea that has been floated, though, is "consent videos".
The ominous-sounding term is being used to describe a video of someone consenting to a sexual encounter. In a recent article on the topic, the female author recalled being in the throes of passion when a man whipped out his smartphone and asked her to "quickly just say that you want to have sex with me", before sex. Hot. She also recalls the tale of an anonymous "friend of a friend" who met a "minor celebrity" on a night out and was asked to star in a consent video before they slept together, stating "her full name, that she was there of her own accord and that she consented to having sex with him," because "his contract was very strict".
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By all accounts, the sexual encounters in question were consensual, yet these women's experiences mark a worrying trend towards men trying to preemptively cover themselves in the event of an accusation of rape or sexual assault. Consent videos bring up a lot of questions: are they necessary? Who do they benefit? And would they even be considered evidence to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the accuser consented if they were presented to the police, lawyers and a jury?
Speaking to experts in law, social media and sexual violence, the verdict is clear: consent videos probably aren't the answer. Instead of solving an issue, they throw up more problems, not least the fact that consent is an ongoing discussion and it won't always be clear which specific acts the person on camera is consenting to (they may want to have vaginal sex with a condom but not anal sex, for example).
Durham University law professor Clare McGlynn, who specializes in sexual violence and image-based sexual abuse, says that in a case of alleged rape, a consent video is only ever going to be one part of a broader range of evidence going before a jury. "This is because consent is ongoing and can be withdrawn at any time. Therefore, a video may record 'consent' but the situation may then change and consent is withdrawn."
There's also a risk that the "consent" is given under duress or coercion, and is therefore not free and valid consent, McGlynn explains to Refinery29. "There is a danger, therefore, that in considering whether we should be recording consent, we are distracted from focusing on what we should all want and encourage – enthusiastic consent that is clear and free."
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Dr Bernie Hogan, a senior research fellow at Oxford University’s Internet Institute, doesn't believe consent videos have a future, and says they certainly won't become mainstream. "My initial thought is that it's probably not very prevalent, and it's certainly not very prevalent for someone the second time they try to have sex with someone – because they probably wouldn't get that far. However, I do think that it identifies an important anxiety," he says.
He also reminds us that we shouldn't think technology can solve all our problems. We can't turn things that we can't encode, like consent, into technology. Consent "resists encoding and in many ways that might be a reason why it forms such an anxiety for men," Hogan says. The only technological solution to the problem that could work would be "continuous surveillance", not a consent video per se, but filming the whole encounter, he suggests.
"I don't think everyone is going to do that, but I think some people would. People taking a phone, putting it on the nightstand and filming it is plausible. Some people will find that sexually arousing, others will find that terrifying." But of course, not everyone is going to agree to that, particularly on a first or second encounter.

The concept is 'deeply troubling' and perpetuates the lie that most reports of sexual assault are false.

Katie Russell, spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales
The view on consent videos from the charity Rape Crisis' perspective is also clear. Katie Russell, spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales, describes the concept as "deeply troubling" and says it perpetuates the lie that most reports of sexual assault are false. "It suggests both a complete lack of understanding of what consent is and isn’t, and that the social myth – and it is absolutely a myth – that women, in particular, routinely lie about having been raped or sexually assaulted is as ingrained and widespread as ever."
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Consent is not a "grey area", she highlights. On the contrary, it’s clearly defined in law: a person consents to sex and/or sexual activity when they agree by choice, and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. She acknowledges, however, that while consent is a "clear concept" in theory, it's not always clear-cut in reality. Someone may be "scared, threatened or coerced into saying 'yes' to sex, for instance, and that would not equal their consent because they hadn’t made a free choice."
Like McGlynn, she emphasizes that consent is far from static. It's "a 'live' concept and an ongoing conversation," she adds. "Someone might freely consent to sex – and even be recorded doing so – one moment, and the very next moment change their mind, or lose their capacity, because they fall asleep, for instance, and consent would instantly be gone, and sexual activity with that person would then be a very serious criminal offense."
Instead of whipping out their smartphones, then, Rape Crisis believes "men would be better off spending their time communicating with their sexual partners throughout their encounters, checking in with them at regular intervals to make sure their partner is equally comfortable with what’s happening between them."
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