Removing Cognitive Bias Around Consent


Having helped a number of groups in the Balkans, I've visited Tirana quite a few times and walked past the home of former dictator Enver Hoxha. Pictures of his basement were recently published around the world. Prisoners would be brought there, bound and drugged to be interrogated.

In Australia, when we hear about an intoxicated woman being taken into the defence minister's office in the middle of the night some people seem to think it is more like a date gone wrong than the ordeals of those prisoners in Albania. In the mind of a victim, it is nothing like a date.

Enver Hoxha mansion, Tirana, Albania, Brittany Higgins, Bruce Lehrmann, defence minister, sofa

Yet everybody else just went about their duties as if this was business as usual. A few days later, the Minister conducted a meeting with the victim in the same location as the assault.

If the victim was so intoxicated she couldn't even sign the security log, potentially suffering from the effects of a date-rape drug, how could the security staff imagine she would perform any normal duties? What, then, was the justification for her to be granted entry?

Did visitors to Enver Hoxha's villa sign the security book? Were they invited back for tea?

Australian Parliament House, leaked security log

The woman concerned has demonstrated incredible courage by making her story public and that makes it even more compelling for people to ask questions like that.

When I wrote about the falsification of abuse claims against Jacob Appelbaum, I was thinking about the way such vendettas undermine the credibility of real abuse victims. The people who use the word abuse for just about every minor spat in the free, open source software community are stealing from the experiences of women like those coming forward in Australia today.

Chanel Contos, Kambala, Instagram

It is worth looking at the 70 page log of anonymous abuse reports from young women in Sydney and comparing it to the falsified accusations against Jacob Appelbaum. The difference is immediately obvious.

One of the most startling scenes I saw in the Balkans was a man raising his voice at female volunteers in exactly the same manner as one of the more controversial members of Australia's parliament. Yet whenever other men try to defend women in these cases, we are accused of rocking the boat or subject to frivolous counter-accusations.

It is interesting how the blog I posted in November opens with a woman's story about consent in a different context. Education about consent is the key demand of Chanel Contos and her friends. How can society give young people any credible education about consent when we have the constant surveillance of social media, invasive imaging systems at airports and all these other unwanted intrusions on a daily basis?

In 2015, security staff at Melbourne Airport were disciplined after a pat down search of the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. In the context of consent, does a deliberate pat down search from these bullies feel any less desirable than unwanted physical contact ordered by a machine?

Reforming views of consent requires much more than the improved school curriculum these women are rightly asking for.

After my observations in the Balkans, one of the choices I made was to invest some of my time during the pandemic in the online course on Data, Economics and Development Policy now offered by MIT. Although it has a much stronger focus on data, it considers some of the same issues addressed by the course Miss Contos decided to pursue at University College London. It is an uncanny coincidence, although it was many years before the current crisis, I completed my high school education at one of the schools for boys that Miss Contos has drawn attention to. Many men from every corner of Australian society share the concerns of these women.

Enrolments in this semester of the MIT DEDP MicroMasters are closing between 9 and 12 March. People can start immediately online doing just a single subject or all five.