On Monday, The UCD School of Computer Science apologised for an email that was forwarded to all Stage three Computer Science students from a UCD Medical Student searching for an app developer for his app ‘Consent’. The story was picked up by a number of national media outlets, probably because of the inflammatory wording of the students email, that included him saying that he wants to “fight the ever growing fear for men to be sued post intercourse due to consent not being recorded/denied/retracted” and that the legal ramifications of false associations against men are “responsible for the destruction of thousands of lives every year.”
The news worthy part of the story was that the email was forwarded by the school itself, seeming to indicate an endorsement of these ideas, yet the part of the story that sparked readers interest was the students app idea and his apparent urgent desire to protect men from women accusers.
In our local cesspools of unsolicited debate; Facebook comment sections and daytime radio, respondents were quick to vilify the student or denounce consent as an idiotic aspect of ‘generation snowflake’. Though any type of public discussion on a topic like consent can be beneficial, most debates following this story missed the most flawed part of this students view.
This lone student was not worthy of a national news story. When pushed for answers on the specifics of the app, he came up short. In fact, in a later email to the Tribune, he wrote that he recognises that consent can be withdrawn at any stage, which undermines the entire idea of his app in the first instance. It seems like a concept in the very early stages of development.
Administrative mess up aside, the focus of the story should not be this singular student with a provocative but vague app idea, but rather him as an example of how disillusioned some people are from the realities of consent, rape and false allegations.
From UCD 200 to Keepin’ It Country, a person who is unaware of how a lack of consent can affect people could easily believe that the current climate is out to prosecute men. Though most of us were “appalled” at this students fears, it was only a year ago when the Belfast Rape Trial had the national psyche doubting the victim. We can be very quick to ridicule this student and his fear of the ‘vindictive woman’ stereotype, when it’s actually a commonly held view. The media often only further perpetuates that narrative (just think of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings). This student believes there is a genuine risk that he will be falsely accused of rape by a woman, but his fears are mostly unfounded.
Speaking exclusively about men raping women, about 8% to 10% of women report their rape to the police, though most experts say this is a liberal estimate. Of all rapes reported to the police, only 5% are deemed to be false allegations. When this is compared to the overall number of rapes, the number of false rape allegations is closer to 0.5% (Belknap, 2010).
A report by the British Home Office on ‘Attrition in reported rape cases’ in the early 2000s found that only 3% of reported case were deemed false and stated that there is an “overestimation of the scale of false allegations by both police officers and prosecutors which feeds into a culture of scepticism, leading to poor communication and loss of confidence between complainants and the police.” The unwarranted fear that women are lying about being raped only further discourages victims from coming forward.
Ultimately, women are very unlikely to report being raped, but they are even more unlikely to make false rape claims to the police. Consent is multi-faceted and difficult. It’s about much more than rape and the legal consequences, and will probably not be made by an app. It requires constant communication and respect of other people’s boundaries. Regardless of what news story sparks the next social media debate on consent, the fear of men being sued by women making (statistically rare) false allegations of rape should not be a major issue in this discussion.
By Muireann O’Shea – CoEditor