Sexual assault has reached seemingly epidemic levels. Previous reporting technologies, with their inherent flaws of human bias and error, not to mention political interference, have made it difficult to discern whether more incidents occur today, or past reporting procedures just failed to represent the magnitude of the problem.
Choosing to come forward to report sexual harassment or assault is fraught with danger: Victims risk having their reputation shredded and many feel victimized all over again by the very system intended to bring them justice. There is room for improvement in the way we manage reports of sexual crimes.
Enter blockchain. While some people have yet to hear of the term, and those who have often think of it in conjunction with cryptocurrency, the technology has the potential to do so much more. It allows a permanent, secure, and immutable record of reports of victimization that can help law enforcement bring perps to justice. More importantly, it provides a safe, anonymous method for victims to report crimes against them free from fear of retaliation.
What Is Blockchain Technology?
Begin thinking of blockchain technology as more like a textbook than a website, even though programs based on it are internet-based. When someone purchases a biology text, for example, the book in their hands contains the exact words as every other one in the class. The same with novels: The copy of “The Parable of the Sower” sitting on Bob’s shelf reads the same as the copy Chrissie has on her coffee table.
Blockchain works the same way: The information that is posted is not only encrypted, but it also shares no one landing space on the web. It exists in the same form in more than one server. The information shared via blockchain creates a permanent record of events no other individual can come along and edit.
This is why blockchain works for cryptocurrency: The value arises not from any given printing press, but its independent value across the web. With all due apologies to Gertrude Stein, a bitcoin is a bitcoin is a bitcoin!
Blockchain preserves information in an even more pure form than books, however. When a textbook is published, various writers, editors, and other staff can collaborate to create the finished product. With blockchain, the individual maintains full ownership over what they report, and outside parties cannot edit or change their account.
How Blockchain Can Help Survivors Of Sexual Crimes
Given the way blockchain creates an immutable record preserved in multiple locations, the implications for reporting sexual harassment and abuse become clear. One significant advantage is it allows victims of harassment, abuse, and assault an anonymous way to report the crime. Sex crimes can create a great deal of shame for a victim, and coming forward publicly can cause ramifications in both their personal and professional lives.
Sexual crimes are far from rare. Approximately one out of every six women will fall victim to a rape attempt, and one in every four girls will be abused before age 18. While men suffer abuse slightly less often, they nevertheless fall prey as well — and often suffer in silence out of shame.
Both men and women experience stigma after an assault, and men often hesitate even more than women to report, feeling they should have been “tough” enough to ward off such a crime. Blockchain offers a way around the stigma. Plus, as many victims fear their assailants may retaliate against them or those they love for reporting, blockchain provides a way for them to do so with zero way for anyone to learn their identities.
Blockchain offers law enforcement a way to track suspects and observe patterns of reported behavior. While multiple court battles will no doubt rage in the near future over the use of such technology to prosecute suspected rapists and other sex criminals, the technology offers major insights into the number of victims reporting infractions perpetrated by the same individual.
It’s hard not to wonder, for example, how differently the recent Supreme Court confirmation of Justice Brent Kavanaugh may have gone had blockchain technology existed when Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford and other women endured their assaults.
Limits Of The Technology
As useful as blockchain is for victims of assault and those who hope to help them, the technology does have its limitations. For example, apps like LegalFling allow users to consent to a specific sexual act at a given time. However, swiping to consent to one act does not mean the individual cannot later withdraw it, nor does one swipe allow for ongoing sexual contact.
Likewise, while blockchain preserves accounts in an unchangeable fashion, the potential for false reporting exists. Should law enforcement begin utilizing the blockchain to hunt down suspected perpetrators, they could risk following more false leads since technology can be hacked and infiltrated. While false reporting remains rare, the very anonymity that keeps victims safe potentially could create new problems in this case.
Blockchain: A Useful Tool, But Not a Cure-All
Blockchain may offer a safe, anonymous way for victims of sex crimes to record their experiences in a way that will remain unedited by others. It allows them to find support, and it may let law enforcement track suspects and study behavioral patterns. However, to address the reality of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment in a meaningful way that prevents future crimes, education remains a top priority.