Proposed #MeToo app connects survivors- and identifies predators
Perp tags “could be an excellent tool,” but it raises thorny legal issues that could hurt survivors if they decide to purse criminal charges or a civil suit, said lawyer Stephany Mandin.
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Raven Blue, a user-experience designer in Saint John, N.B., wants to keep the #MeToo conversation going.
He has designed an app he hopes can be used by victims of sexual assault and harassment to find out if the person who targeted them also targeted others.
Here’s how it works: Users enter a perpetrator’s first and last name and phone number. The app generates a unique encrypted key — a nonsense string of numbers and letters that can be used as a hashtag.
“The perp’s information is not encoded in the key. It can only be generated by those three pieces of information,” Blue said. The app does not store personal information and can’t be used to search for people’s names.
“Once we have the key, which we call a perp tag, it can be used any way the person chooses — in social media or in private conversation, if they want to refer to the person and they don’t want to name the person.
The app is ready to go, but not yet live because Blue said he’s still getting feedback from lawyers, law enforcement and victims’ organizations. He’s also asking survivors and their loved ones for their input in a survey on Perptag.com.
"It just takes one person to stick their neck out," about an incident, Blue said, but in small communities where everyone knows everybody that can be difficult to do. That’s one of the problems the app is trying to solve.
Karen Kelsky, an American academic who has been collecting stories of sexual assault and harassment from almost 2,000 women in academia, said she thinks the idea is “marvellous.”
What’s needed is “a space for public sharing that isn’t mediated by the gatekeepers,” whether that’s media, workplaces or other institutions, Kelsky said.
“Assuming it all checks out in terms of legality ... (the app) is a way to get information and to defeat the isolation and shame that is core to the abuse dynamic,” she said.
Perp tags “could be an excellent tool,” but it raises thorny legal issues that could hurt survivors if they decide to purse criminal charges or a civil suit, said employment lawyer Stephany Mandin, who handles sexual harassment cases.
“I would be hesitant to encourage people to use this,” Mandin said. In sexual misconduct cases, the victim is often the only witness, and “It’s already very difficult for a witness to be seen as credible," in part because of a "misplaced assumption" that they’re just out for money, she added.
If victims were to find each other via perp tags and decide to mount a legal case, it would be easy for a lawyer representing the alleged perpetrator to “have a field day” accusing them of colluding with one another to get their stories straight, Mandin said.
Then there’s the issue of defamation: An accused perpetrator could sue victims for damaging his reputation. The idea behind the app is to protect victims by anonymizing perpetrators. However, that might not be foolproof, explained lawyer Anna Matas.
“If you know (the alleged perpetrator’s) phone number, I think it would be pretty straightforward for people to put names together with allegations," she said.
Both lawyers said they're all for victims getting the support they need, and want to see the silence and shame around sexual assault broken.
"I’m concerned, with the current state of the law — does this tool ultimately hurt or help the people who use it?" Mandin said.