Wednesday 16 October 2019

Apology issued after outrage over email sent to UCD students about 'consent app proposal'

  • Professor apologised to students for email sent in error
  • App would see students sign digital consent form
  • Claims it could 'fight the ever-growing fear for men to be sued post-intercourse'
  • Idea received backlash online over 'toxic masculinity'
  • Students' Union 'appalled' at email
The email details information about the proposal, for an app called 'Consent', which would
The email details information about the proposal, for an app called 'Consent', which would "allow for others to quickly verify their consent prior to sexual activities".(stock photo)
Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

THE head of the computer science department at University College Dublin (UCD) apologised to students this morning after an email sent regarding a proposal for a 'consent app' sparked outrage on social media.

Screenshots of an email sent by a UCD medicine student show correspondence to the School of Computer Science, asking if they could forward their request for a mobile app developer to help with their idea.

The email details information about the proposal, for an app called 'Consent', which would "allow for others to quickly verify their consent prior to sexual activities".

It says that users could "electronically sign/verify pre-made contract before sex, to ensure consent is recorded".

However the proposal has been criticised by students over claims that it could "fight the ever-growing fear for men to be sued post-intercourse".

"Due to consent not being recorded/denied/retracted the life-destroying ramifications that follow, as well as allowing for a clear opportunity if the other, for instance female, does not wish to continue with the act - and leaves out the lack of communication which is responsible for the destruction of thousands of lives each the year," the email continues.

The email, which was marked as "urgent", was sent to the computer science department yesterday afternoon, who forwarded the email to all postgraduate, third year and final year students in the department "which may be of interest" to them.

However this morning, the head of the school of computer science, Professor Pádraig Cunningham, issued an apology to all students and said the email should not have been forwarded on.

In emails seen by Independent.ie, Prof. Cunningham said: "An email you received on Monday, March 11, 2019 with the subject heading "Fwd: Urgent" was not reviewed and approved by the UCD School of Computer Science before it was forwarded to our students.

"The School emailing lists should not have been used to circulate this email. It was issued in error. Please disregard the email.

"On behalf of the School, I would like to sincerely apologise to the students who have received this email and for the offense it has caused.

"The School of Computer Science will review and improve its approval process for all proposed emails to be sent to students on our lists to ensure that this can not happen again."

Jade Wilson, a student at UCD and the Student Union's coordinator for gender equality campaigns this year, said she was "appalled" to hear that the email was sent to hundreds of students.

"It indicates a culture of nonchalance around consent and women’s safety. It’s clear that the developer of the app’s primary concern is not the safety of women nor is it to ensure that all sexual encounters are consensual. The primary concern is to protect men from accusations of rape," Ms Wilson told Independent.ie.

"Coming from a medical student it’s even more disappointing. Not only is he deeply uneducated about ongoing consent, as he thinks consent can’t be revoked, but also clearly lacks in the compassion you would expect a doctor to give if a victim were to disclose to him about assault.

"Both morally and legally the proposal is unacceptable and quite clearly based on misogyny."

Ms Wilson added that she believes legal and GDPR issues could come into play should such an app be introduced.

"I can’t think of one woman who would be okay with having her sex life indefinitely tracked online where the information can be hacked, leaked, or used as blackmail," she said.

"Someone can easily consent on the app on your behalf, and if you’re intoxicated the contract wouldn’t work either."

UCD's Students' Union said they were "appalled" by the email and said the proposed app wouldn't resolve "consent related issues".

UCDSU President Barry Murphy said in a statement: "We understand that the message of consent can be a difficult one to grasp, which is why we provide education campaigns as well as lobby the government for better consent education from a young age.

"This app will not solve any consent related issues.

"Consent goes a lot further than the click of a button, or two clicks, or three.

"It is about having conversations with people we have sexual experiences with, it’s about mutual respect and understanding that everyone's boundaries are different and that feelings can change from moment to moment.

"If you focus on a victim/perpetrator dialogue, as this app appears to, you are not advocating for consent.

"Never mind that a person could be coerced into agreeing to consent via an app, you are also misinforming the ‘perpetrator’ and telling them that once they have a click they have consent-which is not true.

"You will in fact create more perpetrators and worse still they won’t understand why they have done something wrong," Mr Murphy said.

"To put this into an example; sexual acts vary, you may consent to having sex and once it begins the person could do a wide range of unwanted sex acts and claim it is OK because you consented to having sex at the beginning.

"It is also not possible in an app to retract consent. This is each person’s right.

"Consent is something which must be maintained throughout the experience and each person can stop at any point."

Mr Murphy added that he feels we need to have an open dialogue about consent from an early age.

"Consent is quite simple and quite difficult all at once. It needs to be part of our early building blocks when we are developing as children.

"We need to learn early on about how to interact with one another better.

"Through our families, in our homes, with our friends, in our schools and in all aspects of community involvement.

"A consent app will not solve this issue, instead, I have no doubt it will do nothing but further the it.

"I implore those involved in creating the app to find another avenue to promote the message of consent."

Other students described the proposal as "toxic masculinity at it's finest".

Independent.ie has contacted the medicine student for comment.

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