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The Atlantic: Sexual Violence is not a 'Data Problem'

The Atlantic: Sexual Violence is not a 'Data Problem'

November 4, 2014 — Trying to address sexual assault with "[t]attletale solutions" -- like a new nail polish that can detect "date-rape drugs" or a smartphone app that collects data on alcohol consumption and consent -- "implies that what we're most worried about is men being wrongly accused of sexual assault," Karen Levy writes in The Atlantic.

The nail polish, called Undercover Colors, and the app, called Good2Go, underscore society's "tendency to address sexual violence as a data problem," Levy argues, adding that the products suggest "[t]hat the reports women provide [on sexual assault] aren't reliable, and should be replaced by something 'objective.'"

Technology can have a role in decreasing sexual violence when used in situations where it provides resources to help victims "speak for themselves," Levy explains. She cites Pivot, which connects human trafficking survivors to services, and Aspire News, which can alert a domestic violence victim's "trusted contacts if she is in an emergency situation."

While tools like these alone cannot "'solve' the problem of sexual violence ... they do show that technology can be used thoughtfully to address complicated social problems" if it is "sensitive to the social, economic, and institutional realities in which it's embedded," Levy writes.

She concludes, "We need to ensure that we don't simply create tattletale technologies that 'speak for' victims by translating their complex realities into reductive, proof-oriented data points. To do so makes these 'solutions' part of the problem" (Levy, The Atlantic, 10/30).