Blockchain Reality: How It Can (and Can’t) Prevent Sexual Assault

Flipping the focus to protect potential victims, not perpetrators.

Like a shiny little treasure, blockchain has been entrancing futurists over the last few years: promising a digital solution to everything from banking to democracy.

The technology also offers one possible approach to tackling the ongoing nightmare of sexual assault.

But one thing that hasn’t been asked is how, exactly, will blockchain do this guard against such attacks?

Thankfully, some big-thinkers are stepping forward with concrete ideas about blockchain can and can’t do to make the world a better and safer place.

But before we get into some of these specifics, let’s quickly go over what blockchain exactly is.

Cryptography and decentralization

One of the best ways to think about blockchain is to envision a set of records—which is where the block in blockchain comes in—that are connected using strong cryptography.

As each one contains data as well as a timestamp and record of any activity, the records become—you guessed it—a chain that can’t be altered without a special password.

This makes the blockchain extremely secure and a major reason why it is the favorite way to handle cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

So what does this have to do with sex?

One of the ideas floated for using blockchain to prevent unwanted sexual advances was to using its security system to register consent.

The concept: parties involved use a blockchain-linked app to agree they want to be physically intimate together. As blockchain technology is impenetrable there shouldn’t be any questions afterward about who gave, or didn’t give, their consent.

There are apps currently available that have tried to this very thing. But despite some initial excitement about them, the reality that such consent apps can’t offer an actual solution has been quick to set in.

For one thing, there’s little preventing someone from forcing another person to enter their code. The second is something that really should have been brought up at the beginning: that consent can and should be able to be withdrawn at any time.

With the apps now available this isn’t an option. Instead, they, unfortunately, give users a sense of being trapped by a technology that was supposed to make them feel secure.

But there are benefits

Even though using blockchain to confirm prior consent presents a serious problem, at least where it stands right now, that doesn’t mean that the technology can’t be useful when flipped to protect potential victims.

In an article for The Next Web, Cara Curtis points out that while registering consent doesn’t work, using blockchain as a way to safely and securely report on inappropriate and harmful behavior does.

Project Callisto

Curtis points to a non-profit in San Francisco that aims to use blockchain to give college students a secure way to record abuse. Currently, Callisto Campus is active on 13 campuses and serves more than 149,000 students.

But Calisto isn’t just a reporting platform. Instead, it offers three ways for survivors to register sexual assault. The first is to record an incident, the second is to file a report, and the third uses “information escrows.” This last type means that any report is kept confidential unless another report is made against the same person.

Calisto also uses the cryptographic side of blockchain to make sure that all the data they collect is secure and unalterable, which gives another layer of safety towards those who are reporting.

The reality of blockchain

The shiny allure of blockchain hasn’t worn off quite yet, the name still being used as a kind of high-tech magic spell that seemingly is the answer to any problem.

But as we get into what blockchain really can and can’t do, we are beginning to see what could be its real power: not to give a false sense of security but instead to allow people to safely report sexual assault.

In this way, blockchain could potentially become an incredible tool in the ongoing evolution of human sexuality.

Image sources: TLC Jonhson, Kevin Smith, Blemished Paradise