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Can Blockchains Actually Be Tools for Sexual Safety?

The idea of using bitcoin-inspired technology to authenticate sex consent.

Over at cryptocoinsnews, there’s been a discussion about possibly using the same crypto-currency technology that’s the backbone of bitcoin as a way to register sexual consent.

The idea, on the surface at least, is quite intriguing: two people, interested and agreeable to sexual contact, would digitally sign some kind of smartphone app. This way both parties would have a form of authenticated and particularly secure record of consent.

Blockchains and networks

Even if you’ve heard of bitcoin, a much-talked about form of digital currency, you may not be familiar with the actual technology behind it.

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin work via blockchains: a system decentralized digital checks and balances that prevent any retroactive changes to a set of data. The decentralized part of that is crucial as there is no one location of the information that can be altered or destroyed.

Using bitcoin as an example (and keeping this very simple as it all can get quite complicated): a transaction, or record of activity, is transmitted with a timestamp to a block of similar transactions shared over multiple locations. The timestamp helps keep duplications from occurring and is the key to making the system error-free and secure across all the computers on the blockchain network.

Securely documenting consent

Theoretically, the same type of system could be used to record sexual consent.  On the surface, it’s a possible solution to false rape accusations: once registered between the parties concerned, there’d be an electronic proof of consent generated.

Cryptocoinsnews does a good job of bringing up this benefit, as well as pointing out the inherent problems. Yes, consent would then be registered, but it could have been given under duress—though a special safety code could be part of the system so any person could appear to be giving consent, but it would actually alert the police.

There is also the question of consent for what: sex is not just one type of activity. Consenting to one form of sex but then being forced to perform another is still sexual assault.

What about being impaired through drugs or alcohol? A digital form of consent might be electronically secure, but when it’s done under the influence, both willingly or not, it would be completely invalid.

Furthermore, an electronic contract signed before sex doesn’t acknowledge the right of people to withdraw consent midway through a sex act if they no longer want to participate. A digital document shouldn’t be hanging over anyone’s head as a reason to continue if they are in pain, uncomfortable, or no longer in the mood to keep going. Using blockchains in this way could open up opportunities for unsavory characters to exploit others even when permission in no longer given.

Security, but for whom?

Thinking about it further, the whole idea of a cryptocurrency-based system of registering consent appears to be less about sexual security and more about making things more difficult for those who feel they have been taken advantage of sexually.

By making the system so digitally secure, it could easily become, in the eyes of everyone from the parties involved to law enforcement, the end of the argument. Coming forward after experiencing sexual assault is terrifying enough, Yet therebut then having a high-level encrypted document hanging over your head saying that you consented could make it even more challenging.

Nothing cryptic about it

There is a positive side to the idea of using high-level encryption in regards to recording sexual consent. While there are quite a few technological hurdles to overcome—and still more involving the basic idea of documenting consent—it’s clear that it is something that is being discussed.

And when you are dealing with questions about agreeing to sexual activity, and what happens when it is not given, talking about it is a crucial step.

Image sources: mitchell haindfieldInstitute for the Future (IFTF)Blue Coat Photos

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