Here’s what you learn on the first day of Game Theory 101: Two prisoners are being questioned separately. If neither prisoner confesses, each prisoner gets two years. If both prisoners confess, each prisoner gets five years. If one prisoner confesses and the other doesn’t, the former gets one year and the latter gets six years.
As you can see, if the prisoners could trust each other, then they would both keep quiet. Unfortunately, that’s not how game theory works. Instead, best practice is for each person to act completely in their own interest without taking into consideration what the other side could choose to do. In this case, Prisoner A looks at his choices alone: confess and get one or five years, or stay silent and risk six years.
Sadly, studies show that this scenario often plays out for students reporting rape. This next part is messed up, but stay with me. In the case of rape on campus, reporting matches up with staying silent in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In the prisoner’s ideal world, everyone would stay silent, while in the survivor’s ideal world, everyone would report. It’s unfair, but many survivors hesitate to report rape because of the repercussions. When a survivor can’t trust that society will believe and support him or her (that Prisoner B will stay silent too), game theory says that best practice is not to report (Prisoner A should confess.).
Even though survivors can build a stronger case when more than one survivor accuses the same perpetrator (Studies show that about half of perpetrators are serial rapists.), no one wants to risk being the first to come forward.
One app being piloted on campuses, Callisto, lets survivors save and timestamp written, audio, and visual evidence after the attack happens without making them choose what they want to do with it right away. Along with options to store the case or report it to college administrators, Callisto offers the opportunity to report if and only if someone else files a case that against the same perpetrator. In this way, no one person has to take the brunt of scrutiny alone.
For people who are aware that they might be in a vulnerable situation, LifeLine Response is a different type of app, one that could alert authorities while an attack is happening. Users have the option of setting a timer or holding their thumb on their phone’s screen. When the timer goes off or the thumb is removed, the phone becomes an alarm. The user may then choose to either enter a PIN to disarm the app or allowing the app to alert the police. The app’s GPS leads authorities to the phone’s (and user’s) location.
Until the barriers to reporting sexual assault are removed, or until the crime disappears, technology and innovation continue pick up the slack. Even when advancing justice means matching a smartphone with a half-century-old economic theory or a high-stakes distress call.