New app raises thorny legal issues: Mandin

A new app designed to help victims of sexual assault find each other could harm their case if they decide to pursue criminal charges or a civil suit, Toronto civil litigator Stephany Mandin tells Metro News.

“I would be hesitant to encourage people to use this,” says Mandin, founder of Mandin Law.

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 tells the online legal publication.

According to the article, the app’s Saint John, N.B. developer wants to keep the #MeToo conversation going.

The app is supposed to help victims of sexual assault and harassment find out if the person they accuse is also alleged to have assaulted others. Using the accused’s first and last name and phone number, the app generates a unique-but-nonsensical series of numbers and letters that can be used as a hashtag.

That unique identifier, which the developer calls a “perp tag,” can then be used to refer to the person without identifying them by name.

According to the app’s website, the goal is to “enable survivors to find each other through social media, and then privately discuss their experiences with a specific perpetrator, without using your perpetrator’s name or info.”

While perp tags “could be an excellent tool,” Mandin says the approach raises thorny legal issues.

If victims find each other using perp tags and connect to share their stories — even just for emotional support — a lawyer representing the alleged perpetrator could “have a field day” in cross-examination, accusing them of colluding with one another to get their stories straight, Mandin says.

While she fully agrees that victims should be supported, she’d like to see the end of silence and shame around sexual assault.

“I’m concerned, with the current state of the law — does this tool ultimately hurt or help the people who use it?” wonders Mandin.

While the app is ready to go, it’s not yet live, according to Metro News. The developer is still getting feedback from lawyers, law enforcement and victims’ organizations, the news site says.