Sexual Consent on the Blockchain: App LegalFling Enabling Women Enslavement
If you have ever considered a casual hookup as a viable way to end an evening, you probably also had to consider safety. This unfortunate, but inexorable, concern is built into our culture of going out, meeting people, and possibly taking them home. Bringing someone new home is always at least a minimal risk, but what if this person wanted to record your consent to getting busy with an app? LegalFling is the app in this hypothetical situation, yet to be released for download, and whose pending arrival was received with various degrees of horror. Certainly not the first sexual consent app, but it is the first to use distributed security technology commonly called blockchain.
Cryptocurrency technology that powers secure contracts to verify sexual consent
Simply described, LegalFling sends a consent request from one partner to the other, including pre-determined sub-activities or proclivities that can be rejected by either user. The app generates a Live Contract, which the site describes as “a legally binding agreement.” The contract is verified with blockchain, a data ledger that assures confidentiality and unalterability. The Live Contract is licensed and accessed by purchasing a LegalThingsOne token, created by the developers to act similarly to cryptocurrency, but instead of acting as a currency, its function is to enable interaction with Live Contracts. If one partner then later decides that their boundaries were violated, the app includes functionality to offer contact with “experts” or “escalate a breach” with Cease and Desist letters or penalty payments. That certainly sounds sexy, does it not?
LegalFling is partially a response to the higher visibility that sexual violence against women is getting. While this response is misguided, the premise that it was built upon is very accurate - people need to understand what consent is, talk about what they are comfortable with or uncomfortable with before or during an intimate experience, and be okay if one of the participants change their mind with what was previously agreed upon. Unfortunately, the misguidedness manifests in a total disconnect over what the definition of consent is.
It’s become more clear than ever that a certain section of the population does not understand the concept of consent. From sexual assault allegations from celebrities calling out the problematic behavior, this failure manifests in different, but ultimately toxic ways. While it is undeniable that men are at times the victims of sexual assaults, and sometimes women are the transgressors, the opposite is overwhelmingly the norm. In this framework, people are trying to find solutions to prevent the continual powerplay, victim-blaming, and otherwise ineffective fallout that we have as a culture engaged with so far.
If your FAQ includes the Q “are you promoting rape culture?” You’re doing it wrong
The roots of sexual violence are intertwined with misogyny, racism, and countless other factors - including the entitlement that one person has to another’s bodily autonomy. While education will be sure to play a significant role in diminishing how common sexual assault is, we have far to go to in order to implement effective ways to ensure that people know what consent is. Yes, people should get explicit consent, express do’s and don’ts before sex - but contrary to what LegalThings says, LegalFling is NOT “a fun and clear way to set rules before sex.” A contract is not a clear way to negotiate between two strangers something that could change at any time, and might be stopped at any time. It further escalates a mismatched power dynamic, and encourages people to feel entitled to the consent they believe they have received.
If LegalFling were sincere in promoting organic communication with consent in all its complexity, it would make no pretence of legality. When it describes itself as a “fun and clear way to set the rules before sex,” it could do that without blockchain - without a contract form. It could be an app that encourages people to talk about what they want and don’t want, instead of fostering that sense of entitlement that can so easily be prevalent with hook-ups. Instead, an all-male founding team developed some software that looks designed to squelch continuous communication rather than cultivate it.
Most assaults happen between people who know each other. Much of the consent miscommunication happens when people don’t take the time beforehand to clearly delineate desires and boundaries. Another critical aspect is that sexual assault arises from a lack of emotional control from the offender, thus a lack of discernment. While the potential victims couldn't predict what will follow signing a contract, the potential offender would perceive the contract as a protection from consequences, thus be actually unconcerned about the consequences. This is especially the case if they have the tenuous grasp of the meaning and significance of a consent. These are important distinctions that LegalFling fails to make clear on their website - though it does briefly mention that the contract created by the app may not be admissible in legal proceedings. The concern is that anyone who signs a Sexual Consent Agreement would have hard times proving an abuse; how do you differentiate the physical impact of a rape versus harsh rough sex? It seems clear that apps such as LegalFling are opening doors to female disempowerment, which we've been working hard to change.
Photo via LegalFling and Cover via CheerUp